Next Article

smiling women in coffee shop smiling women in coffee shop smiling women in coffee shop

Enamel Decay: How It Starts and How to Stop It

Enamel is the hard, outermost protective covering of the tooth. Enamel decay exposes the dentin layer and possibly the nerves within the tooth

Enamel gets a lot of wear throughout the day. This hard tooth surface may already be strong, but caring for it prevents enamel decay and is crucial to your overall health. Everything you sip or chew passes across the surface of your teeth and can cause enamel erosion. And because enamel is calcified – meaning it contains no living cells – it can't regenerate once you lose it.

You may jog before work and turn in early to get your beauty sleep, but the heart and brain aren't the only things that need to run on all cylinders. Don't forget the health of your mouth! The first signals of enamel decay are sensitivity and changes to the color of your teeth. With this type of intel, you can give your pearly whites the attention they deserve.

What is Enamel?

Each tooth is made up of four tissues: enamel, dentin, cementum and pulp. Enamel is the hardest substance in the entire body, and it's your first line of defense to protect the softer tissues, nerves and root from exposure to outside substances. It is made of hydroxyapatite and other similar minerals in smaller amounts. Enamel is semi-transluscent, and its natural color is somewhere between a lighter yellow to a grayer shade of white.

Effects of Decay

Enamel decay exposes the yellowish hard tissue called dentin, causing your teeth to look dingy or yellow as a result. This dentin contains microscopic canals that can carry substances straight to the pulp at the center of the tooth where all the nerves live, which is why your teeth might feel sensitive when you take a bite of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), tooth decay begins with this enamel wear.

Causes of Decay and Erosion

Acids in your mouth actually strip enamel of the vitamins and minerals it needs to do its job. This can happen directly from eating or drinking acidic foods, like citrus or red wine, or from the acid attacks that take place in your mouth after you eat something sugary.

Saliva washes away the acid and restores the vitamins lost in these attacks for an hour after you eat or drink. But frequent snacking and dry mouth compromise this natural restoration system, which, over time, can result in decay. The US Department of Health, Office of Women's Health notes that hormonal changes, like those that occur right before your period, can disrupt saliva production and cause dry mouth.

How to Stop Enamel Decay

Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings to remove plaque from your enamel and keep it looking healthy. Make responsible choices, too, and limit the acidic and sugary snacks you have during the day. Remember, saliva needs an hour to clean your teeth and neutralize any acids that throw off your mouth's normal pH level. If you really crave something sweet, challenge yourself to hold out until mealtime in order to curb the frequency of those acid attacks. Swish some tap water in your mouth after meals to rinse away sugar and acid and expose your teeth to the fluoride most tap water has.

The Oral Health Foundation offers an even tastier remedy: Drink a glass of milk or eat a piece of cheese at the end of a meal; dairy can cancel out the acid. If your mouth seems dry, chew some sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva production.

Your teeth need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy just like the rest of your body. Remineralize your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste like Colgate® Enamel Health™ Mineral Repair™, which, with continued use, will also gently whiten and help to relieve tooth sensitivity associated with enamel wear.