What is tooth enamel, and why is it so important?
Tooth enamel is the thin outer covering of the tooth. It’s a tough protective shell for your teeth and is the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel covers the crown of your tooth, which is the part that’s seen outside of the gums.
This part of your tooth is important for a couple of reasons: it’s a protector of your tooth, and it does not grow back. Once you lose a part of the enamel on your tooth, it’s gone forever. This is why keeping your teeth clean and in good health is so important. Tooth enamel loss is a problem that everyone has to deal with as they get older, but there are several ways to try to slow it down.
What Does Tooth Enamel Do?
Tooth enamel protects your tooth from damage. This includes factors from daily use such as chewing, biting, and grinding. The enamel on your teeth also helps keep them insulated from potentially painful temperatures and chemicals.
Due to the types of cells that make them up, broken bones can heal, but your tooth enamel cannot. Once a tooth is chipped, broken, or worn down, the damage is lasting. Your tooth enamel has no living, reproducing cells. This means that it's super tough, but also that it cannot repair itself.
What Causes Enamel Erosion?
Most tooth erosion happens when acid wears away the enamel on the teeth slowly over time. There are several causes for enamel erosion, including:
- Too much soft drink consumption (these are full of citric acids).
- Fruit drinks (some acids in fruit juice are more erosive than battery acid).
- Diet (if it's high in sugars and starches).
- Dry mouth or low salivary flow (your saliva provides some protection for your teeth).
- Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Medications like aspirin or antihistamines.
- Genetics and inherited conditions.
Other Factors in Tooth Erosion
There are more factors than those listed above that can cause erosion and tooth enamel loss, known as environmental factors. They can be anything from friction, wear and tear, stress, corrosion, or any combination of the above.
Unfortunately, the way you go about brushing your teeth can also contribute to enamel loss. If you brush too hard, with too tough of bristles, or too often, you wear away at the enamel, and this causes your teeth to become sensitive.
Some tooth enamel loss is not preventable. Some weak enamel may be cause in utero. Some babies do not form strong teeth, either from the mother’s nutritional habits during pregnancy or other medical reasons. So no matter how you change your diet or address the other causes of tooth erosion, there are times where the damage cannot be prevented.
Tooth enamel erosion has also recently been linked to celiac disease, an issue where a person’s gut cannot tolerate gluten. The exact connection to these two issues remains a unknown, but researchers have a theory that it may have to do with the absorption problems in the small intestine. This could prevent teeth from getting the nutrients that are needed for proper development.
Side Effects of Enamel Erosion
Now that you know the causes of tooth enamel erosion, you need to know the signs to watch out for. There are several side effects, and Flintlock Dental will go over them below:
Tooth Sensitivity - This is the most common side effect and can be caused by a reduction of the tooth's protective coating. Your teeth may hurt when you eat very hot or cold foods, when you brush, or when your gums are exposed to air.
Yellow Teeth - This is caused by the enamel on your teeth being worn so thin that you see the underlying dentin of your teeth, which is yellow.
Uneven Edges - As your tooth enamel wears away, it can result in rough edges that eventually lead to chips and cracks.
Increased Tooth Decay - When you lose the protective layer for your teeth, the tooth starts to become more susceptible to cavities.
Tooth Enamel Repair
Tooth enamel cannot be replicated, but dentists can offer some assistance in repairing the worn down enamel. There are two main ways for eroded teeth to be treated:
Tooth Bonding - This process can be used in cases of milder erosion and is a cosmetic procedure. A resin that’s tinted to match your tooth is applied to the damaged area. Once it hardens, it’s bonded to your tooth and trimmed and polished to fit into your mouth correctly. This entire process takes an hour or less and usually takes just one appointment.
Tooth Crowns - A crown is something that can be applied to a tooth in a more serious case of weak enamel. This procedure involves capping the tooth with a new material that will help protect the damaged areas. A crown can help restore the function to a damaged tooth and will allow you to eat and drink without pain. It will also help protect your tooth against any future decay.
Once you start to experience tooth enamel loss, it’s important to take action to protect and repair it. This is not something that can be replaced once it’s gone, and it’s very important to keep it healthy. Make sure you keep your appointments for your teeth to be cleaned and checked, as this is the best prevention for tooth enamel erosion available.
If you want more information on oral health, check out Flintlock Dental’s other blogs, such as this one that goes over the issue of receding gums.