Enamel is the thin protective covering of the tooth. Completely translucent, enamel is our body’s hardest tissue and is almost entirely composed of hydroxyapatite—a tough mineral layer that covers the teeth of most four-limbed creatures and some species of fish.
For years, scientists believed that the enamel-hardened scales of fish – over millions of years – slowly migrated into the mouth to become teeth. But new research gleaned from the fossils of ancient fish suggests that enamel-making proteins evolved over time to be produced in new body parts, rather than migrating from one place to another. Researchers at the University of Sweden analyzed ancient fish fossils and the genome of modern species, finding that the actual pattern of enamel production had gradually shifted.
In all toothed species, enamel plays a critical role in protecting the teethfrom the daily rigors of chewing, crunching and biting. However, this protective coating is only 2.5 millimeters thick, and can easily be chipped or cracked. Over time, enamel thinning or erosion leads to tooth sensitivity and greater risk for cavities and other dental problems.
Common causes of enamel erosion
Tooth enamel can be compromised by a number of factors, some of the most common being:
- Acidic food and drinks including citrus, vinegar, sodas, wine, energy and sports drinks are loaded with phosphoric and citric acids that gradually erode enamel.
- Dry mouth. Saliva helps regulate the pH of your mouth and wash away harmful bacteria. It also protects enamel by coating it with calcium. People with low salivary production (a condition known as xerostomia) are more prone to dental erosion.
- Acid reflux exposes the teeth to strong stomach acids that can do serious damage to tooth enamel.
- Teeth clenching or grinding can eventually wear down enamel in the molars, and may even contribute to chips and cracks.
- Chlorine levels in swimming pools can be extremely acidic if not monitored properly. The CDC reports that people who swim regularly have a higher rate of enamel erosion than those who rarely swim.
- Certain medications including aspirin and antihistamines
- A diet rich in sugary foods and starches
- Excess plaque between the teeth can also lead to enamel thinning as the acids within the plaque slowly deteriorate the enamel surface, causing small pits to form.
Sticking to a healthy diet, staying well hydrated and maintaining good oral hygiene are the best steps to preventing enamel erosion. And since fluoride strengthens teeth, always use mouthwash and toothpaste that contains this important mineral. As always, regular dental checkups are key for catching problems before they develop into something more serious.
Treatment for enamel erosion
Treatment options for enamel erosion depend upon the severity of the case. Here at Chelsea Dental Aesthetics, Dr. David A. Blaustein may recommend porcelain crowns, fillings, bonding, or veneers to cover and protect teeth that have thinned or chipped enamel.
If you are unhappy with uneven or chipped teeth, discoloration, increased tooth sensitivity or visible pits in your enamel, we invite you to call our NYC office to schedule an appointment with Dr. Blaustein regarding the best treatment plan for your needs. You may contact us using the online form or calling 347-774-4042.