There are many layers to teeth, but the most visible & potentially most important—at least when it comes to preventing dental issues—is the outer layer, called enamel. Here’s what you need to know about enamel.
Tooth Enamel Is Strong & Beautiful
Enamel is the thin outer layer of your teeth. It is one of the hardest substances in the human body, & for good reason. Enamel protects the inner parts of your teeth, including nerves, from bacteria, acid & decay as well as normal pressure & grinding from chewing.
Enamel also influences the appearance of your teeth. It is mostly translucent, but when you consume coffee, tea or wine, or if you smoke, enamel does stain. Thankfully, it is receptive to teeth whitening treatment.
Tooth Enamel Has Some Weaknesses
Though incredibly strong, enamel isn’t invulnerable—if it was, cavities wouldn’t be a problem. The same decay that enamel protects the rest of the tooth from can eventually eat away at it. This decay is fueled by acids, which come from various foods & drinks, including those that are citrusy, sugary, starchy, carbonated or fruity. Enamel is especially vulnerable to decay in mouths with less saliva, which naturally washes away bacteria & food particles that would otherwise turn into acidic plaque.
Enamel can also wear down over time from aggressive brushing, using a hard bristle toothbrush or abrasive toothpaste, or brushing before you’ve washed away any acid you consumed.
Enamel Loss Enables Decay & Causes Discomfort
Losing enamel means losing protection. The less enamel you have, the closer acids are to the vulnerable inner parts of your teeth. Once decay advances beyond the enamel layer, treatment becomes necessary, including fillings for minor decay & root canals or even extractions for worse decay.
Symptoms of enamel loss include increased sensitivity to hot & cold, as the protective layer insulating your tooth nerves from food & drinks diminishes. Additionally, you may notice your teeth becoming increasingly yellow as enamel wears away & reveals the naturally yellow dentin layer beneath.
Prevention Is Key With Enamel
Once lost, enamel cannot be restored, so it’s important to take care of it. While you still have it, you can strengthen your enamel with certain minerals that are common in fluoride. That’s why dentists usually recommend using toothpaste with fluoride in it. You can even talk to your dentist about fluoride treatments, which are commonly given to children but are also effective on adult teeth.