Are you happy with your teeth? Maybe this isn’t something you’ve thought about before, but believe it or not, an entire study was done on this very topic. The research, which was commissioned by the American Association of Orthodontists and came out in 2012, found that one-third of American adults are unhappy with their teeth and by extension feel self-conscious about their smiles. Knowledge about oral hygiene is power — and it’ll help us achieve the pearly whites we crave. The first step is getting to know everything about our teeth starting with enamel.
Enamel is the outer layer of our teeth that forms a shell to protect them from decay. “Tooth enamel is considered the hardest mineral substance in your body, even stronger than bone,” Dr. Frank Baccelli, dental hygiene instructor at Carrington College, tells SheKnows.
The main purpose of enamel is to protect the teeth from any sort of damage. Because it’s stronger than bone, we might expect that enamel is invincible — but unfortunately, it’s not. “Although tooth enamel is a hard, protective surface, it can crack or chip fairly easily,” Baccelli says. “When plaque sticks to tooth enamel, destructive bacteria grow in it. The bacteria convert sugar in food to an acid, which can weaken the enamel.”
Enamel can repair itself by using minerals from saliva and fluoride from toothpaste, Baccelli explains. But over time, it may weaken and be destroyed. That’s when a cavity forms.
Cavities are a dental nightmare, but luckily, there are steps we can take to keep our tooth enamel healthy. Baccelli recommends being vigilant about brushing and flossing and suggests using tooth care products that contain fluoride.
Diet also plays a role in maintaining healthy tooth enamel. “Limit sugary foods and drinks, and eat foods that protect tooth enamel. Calcium in food counters the acids in your mouth that cause decay,” Baccelli advises.
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If you happen to have a sweet tooth (*raises handed*), don’t despair — you don’t have to swear off all your favorite treats to save your enamel. Dr. Steven Golubow, dentist at Zebulon Dental Center, tells SheKnows that getting your sugar fix all at once is the healthiest option when it comes to protecting your enamel.
“Studies have shown that it’s actually the frequency of the changes in pH, not the amount of change, that is the biggest factor in getting risk for tooth decay,” Golubow explains. “So it’s not how much sugar you eat, but how often you eat it. So you are better off indulging all at one time as opposed to spaced out throughout the day.”
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Bacteria isn’t the only thing that can damage tooth enamel, Golubow says. Despite the fact that it’s extremely hard and durable, acid erosion and abrasion can also destroy enamel. He recommends avoiding hard toothbrushes for this reason. Additionally, people who clench and grind their teeth are at a greater risk of eroding their enamel — so if you struggle with grinding your teeth, definitely talk with your dentist about possible solutions.
If you’re worried your tooth enamel is damaged, don’t panic. Golubow explains that although it can’t be regrown, “enamel can easily be repaired with proper diet and good oral hygiene habits.”
If the enamel is destroyed to the point that the dentin (the tissue that makes up the bulk of your tooth) is exposed, Golubow says it’s crucial to seek the help of a professional. “A dentist must intervene and protect remaining tooth structure through fillings, crowns or other types of dental restorations,” he notes.
Dental restorations of this nature are often painful and expensive — but luckily, they may not be a necessity forever. “Recent research advancements prove promising for enamel regeneration or regrowth as a possibility in the near future,” Golubow says.
Until enamel-regeneration becomes a reality, be vigilant about brushing, flossing and getting routine dental checkups. And I don’t know about you, but I’m going to add, “Eat sugar fix,” to my planner. After all, we can protect our enamel and still enjoy the sweet things in life.