Tooth Enamel: The Skin of Your Teeth
The Role of Tooth Enamel
Enamel has an average thickness of 2.58 mm—about the size of a thin wedding band or a key. It protects the sensitive inner layers of teeth from the acids that can cause cavities and protects you from exposure to hot, cold, and acidic foods.
Enamel is the key to white teeth. If the white layer of enamel wears away, it exposes the yellow inner layer of the tooth, called dentin. Tooth enamel is literally the skin of your teeth.
How to Protect Your Enamel
Every time you eat or drink anything acidic, the enamel on your teeth becomes softer for a short while and loses some of its mineral content. Your saliva will slowly cancel out this acidity in your mouth and get it back to its natural pH balance. However, if this acid attack happens too often, your mouth does not have a chance to repair itself and tiny bits of enamel can be brushed away. Over time, you start to lose the surface of your teeth.
When this shell erodes, your teeth are more likely to get cavities and decay. A few easy habits can help you protect your pearly whites. But first you need to know what to watch out for.
What Causes Enamel Erosion?
Damage to your teeth’s outer layer can come from:
- Too many sweets. Bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar, and they make acids that can eat away at enamel.
- Not brushing, flossing and rinsing your teeth regularly.
- Sour foods or candies. They have a lot of acid.
- Dry mouth. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away bacteria acids and leftover food in your mouth. It also brings acids to an acceptable level.
- Acid reflux disease, GERD, or heartburn. These bring stomach acids up to the mouth, where they can damage enamel.
- Bulimia, alcoholism, or binge drinking. People with these conditions vomit often, which is hard on teeth.
- Drugs or supplements that have a lot of acid. Think aspirin or vitamin C.
- Brushing too hard. A soft brush and a gentle touch are best.
- Grinding your teeth. Your dentist may call this bruxism.
What Are the Symptoms?
Erosion usually shows up as hollows in the teeth and a general wearing away of the tooth surface and biting edges. This can expose the dentine underneath, which is a darker, yellower color than the enamel. If your teeth start losing their outer shell, you might notice:
- Pain when eating hot, cold, or sweet foods or drinks
- Rough or uneven edges on the teeth, which can crack or chip when they lose their enamel
- Smooth, shiny surfaces on the teeth, a sign of mineral loss
- Yellow teeth
How Can I Protect My Enamel?
Because it can’t be replaced, your best option is to do what you can to prevent tooth enamel loss.
- Good oral hygiene and natural dental care is the best way to keep your mouth healthy.
- Cut down on acidic drinks and foods, like sodas, citrus fruits, and juices. When you do have something with acid, have it at mealtimes to make it easier on your enamel. You can also switch to things like low-acid orange juice.
- Rinse your mouth with water right after you eat or drink something acidic.
- Use a straw for sodas and fruit juices so they bypass the teeth. Don’t swish them around in your mouth.
- Finish a meal with a glass of milk or a piece of cheese. This will cancel out acids.
- Drink more water during the day if you have dry mouth.
- Use a soft toothbrush. And try not to brush too hard.
- Get treatment for conditions like bulimia, alcoholism, or GERD.
Revised from WebMD, DentalHealth