Tooth enamel is one of the layers of the human tooth. The enamel consists of hard calcified tissue that covers and protects the dentin, an inner layer of the tooth, from the chemicals of food and body fluid. Enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body, but it does not contain living cells so it is unable to regenerate from decay or damage. As a result, enamel erosion is a common dental issue.
Tooth enamel is so hard because of the high mineral content, which presents in tightly packed crystalites that form 87% of the tooth’s volume and 95% of its weight. The crystalites are organized in a dense pattern that extend from the inner dentine to the surface of the tooth. The prominence of this mineral is staggering, as there is approximately 1% organic matter in teeth in comparison to 20% in bones.
Enamel erosion is caused primarily by acids in foods or liquids consumed. While the role of saliva is to neutralize such acids, excessive consumption of acids and improper dental care can cause the enamel to erode slowly over time. Foods that should be carefully consumed include: sugary desserts, starchy white bread, acidic foods, fruit drinks, sodas, and fruits with large amounts of vitamin C.
Tooth enamel can also be damaged over time due to body acids, such as acid reflux or stomach acid. Low saliva flow, caused by hereditary factors or certain medications such as antihistamines, can also insufficiently protect teeth enamel, causing erosion. Teeth grinding can wear down enamel without acid exposure.
The following symptoms may arise as a result to enamel erosion:
- Sensitivity to textures, tastes or temperatures
- Tooth stains or discoloration, which can result in yellow coloring, shiny spots, or translucency
- Cracks or chips in the tooth, which can lead to fractures and rough edges
- Indentations on the surface of the teeth, known as cups
Though enamel is irreplaceable, erosion mostly happens over a long period of time. Therefore, if any sign of erosion is detected, there is still time to take action against further decay with good oral hygiene and regular dentist visits. Dentists can help alleviate enamel erosion through a few processes:
- Tooth bonding: the dentist will apply a tooth-colored material called resin to the stained or damaged tooth. The resin can help with discoloration in addition to preventing further erosion.
- Adding a veneer or crown: the dentist will apply a veneer or crown to the top of the tooth to act as a barrier between the eroded enamel and any acidic chemicals.
Duggal, Neel. “Enamel Erosion: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention.” Healthline, Healthline
Media, 5 Apr. 2017
Mandal, Ananya. “What is Tooth Enamel?” News-Medical, AZoNetwork, 8 Oct. 2013“Tooth.” Mouth Healthy TM, American Dental Association, n.d.