What is Tooth Enamel?
Tooth enamel is the thin, protective covering over the softer inside of your teeth. Don’t let the thinness fool you! This tough outer layer is the toughest substance in the human body, with the ability to stay intact through years of chewing and biting.
It is clear, permitting light and the dentin beneath to shine through.
Types of Tooth Enamel Damage
Despite being resilient, enamel is porous and may become cracked, chipped or discolored, leaving teeth with grooves and pits and a yellowish appearance. Unfortunately, it lacks the ability to regenerate. So, once it is damaged, the inner layer is exposed and vulnerable to sensitivity and decay.
Protecting your enamel through preventive dentistry habits means the difference between enjoying the occasional ice cream or sweet with abandon or encountering discomfort and pain.
What to Avoid for Healthy Enamel
Certain beverages, foods and behaviors are responsible for tooth enamel damage. The top things to avoid to keep your enamel healthy and strong are as follows:
- Cigarettes – Nicotine and tar from tobacco products stain the enamel of teeth, creating a yellow, grayish cast. While vaping is reported not to cause the telltale tobacco staining, there are plenty of other oral hygiene reasons to do what you can to break this habit.
- Coffee & Tea – The naturally dark pigments in coffee and tea, combined with the hot temperature, allows these beverages to penetrate the teeth and remain behind once cooled down.
- Acidic Beverages – Harsh acidic beverages cause acid erosion as they instigate chemical wear to teeth. Highly acidic carbonated sodas, fruit juices, coffee, tea and wine trigger bacteria that erode enamel. Enjoy these acidic drinks with meals to minimize the caustic effects, and swish with water to rinse your mouth afterward. Kids also need to avoid juices, sodas and other sugary drinks.
- Sugars & Starches – Innocent seeming simple carbohydrates like white rice and white bread, along with not so innocent cakes and cookies, cause the bacteria in your mouth to produce enamel-destroying acids, leading to erosion and decay. Aside from attacking your enamel, a diet high in sugary and starchy foods can lead to gum disease.
- Bruxism – The cumulative friction from grinding and clenching erodes or cracks the enamel on the biting surfaces and causes wear. This can be managed through stress-reduction techniques that get to the root cause of the problem and consistent use of a night guard. Worn while you sleep, it can help retrain your jaw and protect your teeth from wear. For best results, a custom night guard will be most effective. Not sure if you grind? Ask your family dentist at your next dental appointment to be sure!
- Using Teeth as Tools – Refrain from opening any type of package or container with your teeth – that is what scissors are for! Do so at your peril and risk cracking or chipping your teeth. The same goes for fingernails and other “non-food” items like ice, pens, etc. But, if impatience or the urge to gnaw got the best of you and you need emergency dental care, we can help.
Medical Conditions and Medications
Stomach issues like GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), bulimia and other eating disorders cause acid from the stomach to enter the mouth, eroding and damaging tooth enamel.
Dry mouth, caused by certain health conditions or medications, plays a prominent role in oral hygiene issues. Without adequate saliva to help wash away acids, the acid causes tooth erosion and bacterial growth, leading to decay and bad breath.
Enamel Hypoplasia, a condition with defective enamel development, affects 1 in 14,000 Americans. It involves inherently thin enamel and teeth that appear darker from birth or develop white spots. This condition may also cause tooth sensitivity, an irregular, bumpy surface, small teeth and a predisposition for dental decay.
Tooth Whitening and Enamel
Wanting to whiten teeth? Get a consultation from a family and cosmetic dentistry practice that can assess your enamel and determine if teeth whitening will work for you. While professional teeth whitening works for most, patients with thin enamel might need dental veneers or tooth bonding to achieve the whitened smiles they desire.
How to Protect Your Enamel
The best thing you can do is to practice daily dental care at home. Gently brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush every time you eat or drink. And, remember to floss once a day. (Overzealous scrubbing can also harm enamel.) Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash for extra protection against bacteria. Consume dairy with acidic foods to neutralize the acidity. Not able to brush? Chew a stick of sugar-free xylitol gum to clear away food debris and trigger saliva production. If you avoid the foods, beverages and behaviors outlined and visit us every six months, you should be able to ensure your enamel remains whole and healthy.