Why You Should Care About Tooth Enamel

The latest news in oral care is about enamel protection. What’s all the buzz about?

tooth_enamelphoto credit: shutterstock

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, even stronger than bone. Yet Mary Cabeceiras, a registered dental hygienist in Richmond Hill, says she sees a lot of patients with enamel wear. Enamel forms the thin outer layer of your teeth, the pale yellow to grayish white crowns you see when you smile. Signs of weak enamel are a glassy appearance at the tips, broken corners or sensations of pain when consuming hot or cold food and drinks.

What causes enamel erosion?

Tooth enamel dissolves in an acid environment. Scientists use the pH scale to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a scale ranging from pH 1 (the most acidic) to pH 14 (the most alkaline). Ideally, the pH of your saliva should be in the range of 7.2 to 7.4, which is slightly alkaline.

So how does your mouth become an acid bath for your teeth?

  • Foods that can destroy your teeth
    Wine, fruit juice, vinegar, and soft drinks are very acidic, with a pH of less than 3. Sweets, especially sticky ones like gummy bears, can leave debris stuck to your teeth, preventing your saliva from neutralizing acid in those areas.
  • Poor oral hygiene
    If you don’t brush and floss regularly, bacteria in your mouth react with the sucrose in food debris and form lactic acid. This acid weakens and erodes tooth enamel over time.
  • Other conditions causing enamel erosion
    The worst acid for enamel wear is gastric juice, as it has a pH of less than 2. People suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease or bulimia nervosa are at a much greater risk of enamel erosion.

Why you should protect your tooth enamel

According to Dr. Colin Dawes, professor of oral biology with the faculty of dentistry at the University of Manitoba, teeth with acid erosion cannot be remineralized.

If tooth enamel softens from acid wear, you can develop painful sensitivity when you consume hot or cold foods or drinks. As well, cavities can form, which must be filled by your dentist to prevent further decay that could lead to loss of the whole tooth. Cracks and broken teeth require even greater restoration work, as well as greater expense and inconvenience.

How to protect your tooth enamel

  • Eat a healthy diet, keeping sweets and sugar-laden foods to a minimum. If you must have something sweet, eat it at one time rather than snacking on sweets all day.
  • Brush and floss your teeth two to three times a day. Keep extra supplies at work to use after lunch. Remember to brush your tongue, too; it can harbour lots of bacteria.
  • Consider using sensitivity toothpaste to provide additional protection against the effects of enamel erosion. It is formulated with potassium nitrate, which helps form a protective barrier between your tooth nerve and the rest of your mouth.