Enamel — It’s Not Just For Walls

OK, quick, what’s the hardest tissue in the human body?

Tick, tick, tick. Bzzzzzzzzt.

It’s the enamel on your teeth.

Enamel covers the crown, the part of the tooth that’s visible above the gumline. It is translucent, so you can see right through your enamel to the main portion of the tooth, the dentin, beneath it. The dentin is where your tooth color is dictated, whether it be white, off white, grey, or yellow.

When you drink coffee or red wine, or smoke, those stains accumulate on the enamel, not in the dentin. Regular visits to the Doctors of Dental Medicine for your twice-yearly cleanings clean and polish most of those stains away.

The job of the enamel

Enamel protects your teeth during daily use. Things such as chewing, biting, crunching, and grinding have to go through the enamel, and they don’t in the short term. The enamel also insulates the teeth from potential painful temperatures and chemicals.

Enamel is one tough customer, standing up to all off the above, but it can be damaged. It can crack or chip, but unlike bone cells, enamel has no living cells so once it is damaged the body cannot repair it.

Erosion, the long-term enemy of enamel

dental careAlthough your tooth enamel is tough, like the Grand Canyon it can be eroded over time. Acids are the usual culprits. Here’s a list of enamel eroders:

• Fruit drinks (fruits have various acids, some very erosive)
• Excessive soft drink consumption (high levels of phosphoric and citric acids)
• Too much sugar and starch in the diet
• Gastrointestinal problems
• Acid reflux disease
• Medications like aspirin and antihistamines
• Genetics
• Environmental factors (see below)

Environmental surface erosion

Friction, stress, general wear and tear, and corrosion can all combine to grind off the enamel from your teeth.

  • Attrition — Grind your teeth at night? This tooth-to-tooth friction is called attrition.
  • Abrasion — This is the wear that happens when you brush too hard, bite hard objects such as fingernails and pens, or chew tobacco.
  • Abfraction —This is basically a stress fracture of the tooth caused by flexing or bending of the tooth.
  • Corrosion — This is the name for acidic contents hitting the enamel. Frequent corrosion takes off enamel.

How do you know the enamel has eroded?

There are various ways to tell your enamel has eroded. Sensitivity to sweets and temperatures can cause twinges of pain in the early stages. As it progresses, your teeth become discolored as more of the dentin is exposed. As enamel erodes the edges of your teeth can become rough and irregular. Severe sensitivity will come in the late stages. Also, cupping, otherwise known as indentations in the teeth show enamel loss.

If we catch your enamel erosion early on, we can cover it with solutions such as bonding. If you’re seeing any of the above signs, call us and let’s take a look, 732-329-3113.

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