Enamel is the hard tissue that protects your teeth above the gumline. Although it's the strongest substance in the human body, it's still pretty fragile. Worn enamel is a common problem that can have a big impact on the way your teeth look and feel.
Symptoms include sensitivity to hot and cold substances or teeth that look kind of yellow or dingy. Sometimes it's caused by consuming too many acidic foods (tomato sauce and red wine, for example), over-indulging in sugary drinks and snacks, or chronic dry mouth. It can also happen due to aggressive brushing or nighttime grinding.
According to the Mayo Clinic, taking steps to support your enamel by making good food choices, encouraging saliva production, and exposing your teeth to fluoride is important to your overall oral health. Severely worn enamel can cause serious problems that require professional attention. Here are some things you should know:
Healthy teeth with strong tissues are opaque and white. If you notice that the edges of your teeth look translucent, it could be a sign that something's not quite right. Hypomineralization happens when your enamel loses the minerals that make it strong, giving your teeth that translucent appearance. There are a lot of possible causes, including genetic conditions and environmental factors. Acid erosion is another possibility due to over-exposure to acidic foods and drinks or, in the case of Celiac disease and reflux, stomach acids. Try to limit the amount of acidic foods and drinks you consume. If you do go for that glass of red wine, rinse your mouth with water afterwards to get as much of the residue off your teeth as possible. Remember, when your teeth are exposed to acids, your enamel softens for a short period, so wait least 30 minutes before brushing. When you do brush, be gentle. For severe cases of translucent teeth, your dentist might recommend bonding or veneers.
Brown spots on your enamel can be a sign of tooth decay or the breakdown of your enamel, says the American Dental Association. Tooth decay is caused by sugary foods and drinks, especially when coupled with excessive consumption. The sugar causes the bacteria that live in the plaque on your teeth to erupt in an acid attack that destroys enamel and exposes the brownish dentin underneath. It's important to brush at least twice a day, floss and keep the enamel free of sticky substances. Regular cleanings at the dentist will help lift surface stains. Professional whitening is another option to achieve a dazzling smile.
Underdeveloped enamel can be caused by genetics or events that happen to the teeth when they're still developing. Events may include infection during pregnancy, or trauma to the teeth or jaw before the teeth erupt. Enamel hypoplasia is a condition that causes the teeth to develop a very thin layer of enamel, pits in the enamel, or no enamel at all. Teeth without enamel are delicate and susceptible to damage and decay, according to Inside Dentistry. Minor hypoplasia can be fixed with simple sealants, but a dentist might suggest bonding or crowns for more serious cases.
Enamel hypoplasia is sometimes present in teeth with amelogenesis imperfecta, an inherited defect that interrupts the formation of tooth enamel, defines Genetics Home Reference. The condition is caused by gene mutations that are frequently, but not always, hereditary, and the baby teeth and permanent teeth can be affected. Without a full coating of enamel, the teeth tend to look very small and pitted or ridged. Those pits and ridges create a perfect place for plaque and tartar to accumulate on the surface of the teeth, which can eventually lead to decay and gum disease. Sometimes with this condition, a soft enamel might develop that eventually wears off completely, revealing the dentin beneath it. Exposed dentin accelerates tooth decay which, in turn, exposes the roots and nerves. In some cases, the enamel is thin but still hard. Teeth may be very sensitive and break easily. Depending on the severity, a dentist might recommend full crowns.
Pay attention to the signs that point to enamel erosion and do what you can to prevent or reverse its effects. Brush with a gentle toothbrush that's designed for sensitive teeth. If your teeth look dingy, use a toothpaste that will strengthen the enamel as it whitens. A remineralizing rinse can help replenish natural calcium back into your enamel. If you're experiencing symptoms of severe enamel erosion, talk to your dentist to establish a plan to alleviate the problem and leave you smiling!