Unless you attended school for dentistry or dental hygiene, you may find it difficult to understand many of the terms your dentist uses such as amalgam or xerostomia. One word you may have heard but might not fully understand is “enamel.”
Enamel acts as a tough protective layer on the outside of your teeth to guard them from damage. To help you better understand enamel, we’ll discuss some of the myths and facts you may have heard about the surface layer of your teeth.
Enamel Can Regenerate: False
Many brands of toothpaste or gum advertise their ability to renew or strengthen enamel. While you can strengthen your enamel, this statement leads many to believe that this protective coating can regenerate.
Enamel, however, cannot regenerate. Minerals like calcium and phosphate create enamel, which means that once the enamel disappears, it cannot grow back. Replacement fillings, like those used in cavities, make up for the loss of enamel.
If you brush regularly with strengthening toothpastes, eat healthy foods, and floss daily, you can fix small enamel damage, but you won’t be able to repair everything.
Enamel Is the Hardest Substance in Your Body: True
You might classify your femur or skull as the hardest substances in your body. But you can actually find the most resilient substances in your enamel. The minerals in enamel make it the hardest and toughest substance you have.
And just like you can fracture your leg, you can also crack and break your enamel-and many people do! Take caution with the foods you eat and beverages you drink so that you can preserve the enamel you have left.
Nothing Protects Teeth from Extreme Temperatures: False
Enamel’s strength protects teeth from bacteria and insulates each individual tooth. The roots and inner layers of your teeth contain sensitive nerves. As the enamel wears thin, hot and cold food or drinks can cause your exposed teeth to feel more sensitive.
This sensitivity often indicates that a cavity has formed. In some cases of sensitive teeth, special toothpaste and foods with low acidity reduce the pain that comes with extreme temperatures.
Enamel Erosion Is Invisible: False
Though you can barely see the thin coating of enamel on your teeth, you do notice the effects of enamel erosion. When enamel wears down, teeth appear yellowish, shiny, and have visible indents or cracks along the edges. Dentists call this noticeable damage tooth decay.
More severe cases of enamel erosion result in visible and painful cavities or infections. However, if enamel erosion has not caused a cavity, your dentist fixes the unsightly appearance with fillings or crowns.
Your Saliva Strengthens Enamel: True
There’s a reason why gum companies want dentists to endorse their products. Chewing gum increases the amount of saliva your mouth produces. These higher levels of saliva then protect your enamel.
Your saliva accomplishes this task in two capacities. First, saliva contains calcium, which strengthens enamel. Second, saliva neutralizes acids and bacteria in your mouth, which prevents additional damage to your teeth.
People with existing medical conditions or who use prescriptions that cause dry mouth should be cautious. Since dry mouth reduces the amount of saliva in your mouth, you will more likely obtain cavities or enamel erosion. If you suffer from dry mouth, take extra care to stay well hydrated.
Teeth Grinding Doesn’t Damage Enamel: False
Teeth grinding does in fact damage your enamel. Our teeth chew and grind up food, but too much grinding can be harmful. In more serious cases of teeth grinding, enamel can become so worn that the teeth may crack or split.
Your dentist can’t fully repair these cracks, but he or she can insert a filling or crown to seal the damage. You can prevent teeth grinding and further damage with mouth guards, relaxation techniques, and an adjusted diet with less alcohol and caffeine.
Foods Can Help or Harm Enamel: True
Although enamel is strong, food and drinks cause a lot of damage to your teeth. Citrus, coffee, sugar, sports drinks, and soda all produce acid that strips the enamel from your teeth. This acid attacks the enamel and slowly wears it away. Additionally, crunchy foods like chips and ice can break away enamel. However, healthy crisp foods like carrots and apples typically cause your mouth to produce more saliva.
Dairy products, like milk and cheese, contain the same calcium and phosphorous that make up enamel. Animal proteins such as beef and chicken also contain helpful phosphorous. These foods can deposit these minerals onto your teeth and strengthen the enamel. Other helpful foods include strawberries, celery, and parsley. These three foods act as abrasives and help to polish and clean enamel.
Many misconceptions exist about enamel’s purpose and abilities. Now that you know the truth, you can better preserve your enamel on a daily basis. Also be sure to schedule regular visits with your dentist so that he or she can inspect your teeth and advise you on any changes you need to make.