The word enamel is probably not new to you. In fact, it’s a fairly familiar dental term that comes up frequently in commercials and advertising. You may have heard that once enamel is damaged it can’t be repaired. But what exactly is tooth enamel?
Our own Meriem Boukadoum, DDS, at 54th Street Dental shares her knowledge of what dental enamel is, and why you should do everything you can to protect and maintain it.
Tooth enamel explained
Let’s unpack this topic by doing a quick primer on the structure of a tooth. A tooth is made up of four components: three hard tissues called enamel, dentin, and cementum, and one soft tissue called pulp.
Enamel is the super-tough calcified outer layer that acts like a protective shield for all the inside parts of the tooth. In fact, enamel is the hardest material produced in the human body. A vast majority of enamel – about 96% – is composed of a mineral called hydroxyapatite. Magnesium, sodium, fluoride, and carbonate make up the balance of the chemical structure of enamel.
A couple key things about enamel is that it doesn’t contain any living cells, so if enamel is damaged, worn out, or breached by decay, it cannot heal or repair itself. Another interesting thing about enamel is that it’s semi-translucent and appears slightly different in color from person to person.
Cementum is a bone-like connective tissue on a tooth's root. It provides stability by attaching to fibers that support the tooth in the jawbone. Cementum also acts as a protective covering to the next layer called dentin.
Dentin lies beneath the enamel and cementum. It’s made up of tiny hollow canals, which can affect the nerves of the tooth. If you’ve ever had issues with sensitivity to cold or hot foods and beverages, it was because of damage to enamel which exposed the dentin, triggering tooth sensitivity.
Pulp is located at the center of a tooth where the nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue live. If you’re among the millions of Americans who’ve had a root canal, you are probably all too familiar with dental pulp. This procedure is all about cleaning out infection in the pulp.
Dental enamel protects dentin and pulp
When you understand the structure of a tooth, it becomes clear that everything truly comes back to maintaining and protecting enamel. After all, healthy, undamaged enamel is the be all and end all for protecting all of the other parts of the tooth. Strong, healthy enamel protects your teeth from tooth decay, tooth sensitivity, and gum disease.
Tooth enamel is vulnerable to acids and bacteria
Right about now you may be thinking that if enamel is so strong, how can it be damaged? A variety of factors, many related to diet, can lead to a weakening or breach in enamel. Things that can weaken enamel include sugary foods, soft drinks, and other refined carbohydrates as well as acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits and vinegar.
The good news is that you can enjoy all these foods and beverages in moderation. Just don’t overdo it on a regular basis, and remember to rinse out your mouth with water when you do.
You can also be extra diligent in your at-home oral care routine by brushing and flossing. But, to keep from brushing away your enamel that’s weakened by acids, always wait at least 60 minutes after eating or drinking acidic foods or drinks before you brush.
Protect your enamel and it can serve you well for a lifetime and miles of smiles. If you have questions or concerns about the health of your enamel, make an appointment for a consultation with us at 54th Street Dental in New York City. To book an appointment use the online booking tool or call us today at 212-333-3200.