Enamel is the thin outer covering of the tooth. This tough shell is the hardest tissue in the human body. Enamel covers the crown which is the part of the tooth that’s visible outside of the gums.
Because enamel is translucent, you can see light through it. But the main portion of the tooth, the dentin, is the part that’s responsible for your tooth color — whether white, off white, grey, or yellowish.
Sometimes coffee, tea, cola, red wine, fruit juices, and cigarettes stain the enamel on your teeth. Regular visits to your dentist for routine cleaning and polishing can help remove most surface stains and make sure your teeth stay healthy.
What does tooth enamel do?
The enamel helps protect your teeth from daily use such as chewing, biting, crunching, and grinding. Although enamel is a hard protector of teeth, it can chip and crack. Enamel also insulates the teeth from potentially painful temperatures and chemicals.
Causes of enamel erosion
One of the main causes of enamel erosion is acids found in the foods and liquids you consume. Saliva constantly neutralizes acid in your mouth to protect your teeth. But if you eat too much acidic food and drink and don’t properly brush your teeth, the outer layer of enamel will degrade over time.
Enamel erosion can be caused by what you eat, particularly:
- sugary foods, such as ice cream, syrups, and caramel
- starchy foods, such as white bread
- acidic foods, such as apples, citrus fruits, berries, and rhubarb
- fruit drinks and juices
- sodas, which typically contain damaging citric acid and phosphoric acid in addition to sugar
- excess vitamin C, found in citrus fruits
Other causes of enamel erosion include:
- teeth grinding
- chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- low salivary flow, also known as xerostomia, which is a symptom of conditions such as diabetes
- regular use of certain medications, such as antihistamines and aspirin
- eating disorders like bulimia, which disrupts the digestive system and exposes teeth to stomach acid.
Can Tooth Enamel Be Restored?
Once tooth enamel is damaged, it cannot be brought back. However, weakened enamel can be restored to some degree by improving its mineral content. Although toothpaste and mouthwashes can never “rebuild” teeth, they can contribute to this remineralization process.
Remineralization introduces minerals, especially calcium, to the teeth. These minerals bind to the surface of the teeth and are drawn to weak points in the enamel. This is especially effective in cases of dental erosion since tooth surfaces might be weakened without being cracked or chipped.
Enamel’s chief ingredient is calcium phosphate, also known as hydroxyapatite. Products with high concentrations of calcium phosphate or with fluoride, a common additive, are best at helping teeth to remineralize naturally before damage exceeds the point of no return.
Treating and preventing enamel erosion
If you’ve experienced significant enamel erosion, a dentist can help you with a few techniques. The first is called tooth bonding. Bonding is a procedure in which a tooth-colored material known as the resin is applied to stained or damaged teeth. The resin can cover up discolorations and protect your tooth. You may want to consider tooth bonding if enamel erosion has caused discolorations on your front teeth.
In more severe cases, your dentist may add a veneer or crown to your damaged teeth to prevent further decay.
The best way to treat enamel erosion is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Even if you already have some enamel erosion, you can still prevent it from becoming worse by looking after your teeth with good oral hygiene.
The Best and Worst Foods for Your Teeth enamel
Some foods invite tooth decay. Other foods help fight plaque buildup. Here are some foods to seek out and some to stay away from.
The good guys
Some suggested foods:
- Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Foods with fiber help keep your teeth and gums clean, says the American Dental Association (ADA). They also get saliva flowing. Next to good home dental care, this is your best natural defense against cavities and gum disease. About 20 minutes after you eat something that has sugars or starches, your saliva begins to reduce the effects of the acids and enzymes attacking your teeth. Saliva contains traces of calcium and phosphate. So it also restores minerals to areas of teeth that have lost them from the bacterial acids.
- Cheese, milk, plain yogurt, and other dairy products. Cheese is another saliva maker. The calcium in cheese, and the calcium and phosphates in milk and other dairy products, help put back minerals your teeth might have lost due to other foods. They also help rebuild tooth enamel.
- Green and black teas. Both contain polyphenols that interact with plaque bacteria. These substances either kill or hold back bacteria. This prevents bacteria from growing or making acid that attacks teeth. Depending on the type of water you use to brew your tea, a cup of tea can also be a source of fluoride.
- Sugarless chewing gum. This is another great saliva maker that removes food particles from your mouth.
- Foods with fluoride. Fluoridated drinking water, or any product you make with fluoridated water, helps your teeth. This includes powdered juices (as long as they don’t contain a lot of sugar) and dehydrated soups. Commercially prepared foods, such as poultry products, seafood, and powdered cereals, also can give fluoride.
The bad guys
Stay away from these:
- Sticky candies and sweets. If you eat sweets, go for those that clear out of your mouth quickly. So thumbs down for lollipops, caramels, and cough drops that have refined sugar. The effects of chocolate on preventing cavities have been widely promoted (largely by studies funded by the candy industry). This has not been proven. But the ADA states that chocolate washes off the teeth more quickly than other candies. Dark chocolate (70% cacao) does have some health benefits. Some studies have shown chocolate is not as bad as other sugary treats.
- Starchy foods that can get stuck in your mouth. Soft bread and potato chips, for instance, can get trapped between your teeth.
- Carbonated soft drinks. These drinks are the leading source of added sugar among kids and teens. They are loaded with sugar. And most soft drinks have phosphoric and citric acids that wear away tooth enamel.
- Substances that dry out your mouth. These include alcohol and many medicines. If medicines are the cause, talk with your dental care provider about getting a fluoride rinse, or a fluoride gel for brushing your teeth.
We love our patients and love to help them form healthy dental life that will last them a lifetime. For more information call us to answer all of your questions so get an appointment today
Dr. Seif received an award in Aesthetic Dentistry and an Advanced Standing Achievement Certificate and held a position as a part-time clinical instructor.
Dr. Seif has more than 15 years of experience as a dentist and has obtained two dental degrees. Dr. Seif earned his first degree in dentistry in Syria in 1998 and practiced general dentistry until coming to the US to advance his education by earning a second dental degree from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, a world-renown dental institute. While at Loma Linda, Dr. Seif received an award in Aesthetic Dentistry and an Advanced Standing Achievement Certificate and held a position as a part-time clinical instructor.
Dr. Seif’s compassion and friendly nature is evident to his patients. He believes that every individual should be treated in a kind, caring and respectful manner. Dr. Seif is dedicated to life-long learning and enjoys participating in post-graduate courses that enable him to provide his patients and community with the excellent dental care he believes every person deserves.
Moving from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2014, Dr. Seif now calls Baytown his home. Along with cooking, friends, family and his dog, Sophie, he enjoys southern culture. He is enthralled by the friendliness and hospitality he finds in Texas, saying, “This is exactly the kind of community I want to live and practice in!”