Why preserving tooth enamel matters! Tooth enamel is very important for the health of every tooth. Enamel, the hardest tissue in the body, covers the dentin of the tooth. Dentin is responsible for tooth color (white, off-white, gray). Enamel helps protect teeth from damage while chewing, crunching and grinding. It also helps to prevent pain when eating or drinking really hot or cold foods and beverages.
Even though enamel is a very strong covering of each tooth, it can become chipped and cracked. This damage cannot be repaired and can cause further damage to the tooth.
Soda, fruit juices, coffee and tea stain tooth enamel. Getting a dental cleaning twice a year and brushing teeth twice a day help to remove stains. There are many causes of tooth enamel erosion. You should limit drinking soda and fruit drinks because they are full of acids that damage teeth. A diet high in sugar and starches or acidic fruit (lemons, lime, oranges) increases bacteria that cause cavities. Some medical conditions cause abnormal enamel. Brushing teeth too hard, grinding teeth, biting nails and chewing on nonfood items can also cause damage that cannot be fixed.
Once enamel is damaged, there is the usual minor pain with hot or cold foods and sweets. The worse the damage, the worse the pain. Without enamel protection, teeth can become permanently stained, appear jagged, look abnormal and develop cavities. First there are small cavities that get bigger until there is damage through the tooth. Once there are holes in the tooth, the nerves are exposed and the pain can be severe. There is also a risk for infection and tooth abscess.
8 Ways to Protect Tooth Enamel
1. Brush and floss daily.
2. Use toothpaste with fluoride — a pea-size amount for a small child and more as kids get older.
3. Visit the dentist every six months for a good cleaning and dental exam. Fluoride is applied to the teeth during early childhood. Older children and adults get enough fluoride from water treated with it.
4. Eliminate highly acidic foods and drinks from your diet.
5. If an acidic drink is necessary, use a straw so the acidic liquid won’t touch teeth.
6. Drink water throughout the day.
7. If you are snacking during the day, remember to rinse your mouth and/or to brush your teeth.
8. Chew sugar-free gum with xylitol.
Xylitol prevents sugars from sticking to the teeth and decreases the risk of cavities. Severe enamel damage causes cavities, infection, abscess and, possibly, severe pain. When the damage cannot be fixed, your dentist might recommend tooth bonding or a crown to decrease damage to the tooth and make it look better.
The best way to prevent extra visits to the dentist and added expense is to take care of the enamel that protects teeth. Having strong enamel will help keep teeth healthy for a long time.
Ann Petersen Smith, PhD, APRN, CPNP-PC, CPNP-AC, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus College of Nursing.