You hear a lot about tooth enamel in commercials and at your dentist’s office but what is it? The outer surface of our teeth is referred to as enamel. It’s the hardest and most mineralized substance in the human body. Because it’s translucent, the color can range from off-white to slightly yellow and is partially responsible for the color of your teeth. Enamel has many jobs, but most importantly, it helps protect our teeth from decay, or more commonly known as, cavities. It serves as a barrier between the inner layers of your teeth and the foods and drinks with which they come into contact. For these reasons and more, it’s important that we protect our tooth enamel, as it cannot be replaced once it is damaged or eroded because it does not contain any living cells, unlike our bones.
Avoid Problematic Foods and Drinks
Certain foods can help our enamel but many more foods can hurt it. Since mouth bacteria feed off of sugar, it’s important to limit the number of sugary foods and drinks in your diet to protect your teeth. When the sugar from these foods and drinks sticks to your teeth, it forms something called lactic acid, which can wear down tooth enamel very quickly. The worst culprits are chewy candy, soft drinks, and even acidic fruits in large volumes. If you do consume these foods, make sure you brush about a half hour to an hour afterward. If you are a fan of carbonated drinks, stick to diet versions that contain artificial sweeteners instead. However, those drinks are also highly acidic, which can still cause substantial damage. Flavored waters are also acidic in most cases, so your best bet is to primarily consume water while indulging in sweet drinks only sparingly.
Eat Foods that Boost Enamel Health
While enamel can’t be repaired, you can protect it by eating foods that can counteract the effects of sugar and acidic foods have on your mouth. Eating foods high in calcium is a great way to keep both bones and teeth strong. Dairy is a great source of casein, which helps prevent the breakdown of tooth enamel. It’s found in both whole fat and low-fat dairy, so don’t worry if you are watching your calories and fat consumption. If you’re avoiding dairy, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are packed with vitamin C. Also, because dairy is basic on the pH scale, it can balance out the acidity found in your mouth after eating starchy or sugary foods or beverages. Drinks like kefir are particularly great because they are also filled with probiotics that promote good gut health, thus decreasing acid buildup in the stomach and the esophagus.
Use Fluoride Products
Fluoride is somewhat of a miracle fighter for teeth because it can strengthen enamel and repair early stages of tooth decay. It can also help fight off the effects of acidity and the bacteria that lurk in your mouth from daily food and drink consumption. The ADA recommends people use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash to help keep enamel strong, but there are also options you can inquire about at your dentist. If you find that you are dealing with tooth sensitivity from weakened enamel, you may want to consider an extra enamel protecting treatment to help stop further enamel erosion and tooth decay.
Avoid Dry Mouth
People who are accustomed to mouth breathing are very susceptible to weakened enamel and advanced tooth decay. Saliva is an important part of mouth function as it helps wash away food particles, bacteria, and acidity that can occur from drinking everyday beverages. If you are on medication that is causing dry mouth symptoms, consider chewing sugar-free gum to help your mouth produce extra saliva. Make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day, swishing it around every so often to moisten your gums and teeth. If you think your mouth breathing or dry mouth is a cause for concern, speak with a doctor about advanced remedies.
While it’s good to brush your teeth often, don’t overdo it. Brushing too hard, too often can wear down your tooth enamel. Make sure your toothbrush has soft bristles and that you are holding it at a 45-degree angle to your teeth while brushing. A common mistake people make is brushing too soon after consuming acidic foods or drinks. Enamel is temporarily softened by acid, and brushing too soon and too hard after contact with your teeth can damage the enamel. Wait about an hour after eating sweets or citrus to brush your teeth and safely remove any lingering sugar or debris.
Signs your Enamel is in Trouble
It’s best to check with your dentist to get an accurate assessment of the health of your tooth enamel, but there are a couple of telltale signs it may be in trouble.
- Discoloration: If teeth are very yellow, it may be because enamel has eroded and exposed the dentin underneath. However, teeth can also be stained easily from drinking coffee, tea, and smoking so make sure to check with your dentist.
- Cracks and chips: Jagged edges, visible cracks, and chips are all signs that enamel is in trouble.
- Sensitivity: Whether it’s hot, cold, or super sweet foods, if your teeth are highly reactive, it may be because your enamel is no longer able to perform its protective duties.
- Pitting or cupping: If you notice indentations on the surface of your teeth, it could be an indication of an enamel problem.
One of the most important things you can do for good enamel health is to routinely attend your six-month checkups and cleanings. Your dentist will be able to spot issues with your teeth, particularly with your enamel, before a problem becomes more severe, so don’t put off making an appointment!