The promise to restore your tooth enamel is one you’ve probably seen a few different oral-health products make. You may have also heard, like I did growing up, that once your enamel is damaged, that’s the ball game. So, what is the truth?
It turns out, both!
You actually can strengthen your weakened enamel, but there is a point of no return where damage cannot be reversed. We spoke with the experts to get to the bottom of the very top layer of our teeth.
What is Enamel?
A critical part of the health of your teeth, enamel is the stronger-than-bone layer that stands between the tooth and the rest of the world.
According to New York cosmetic dentist Victoria Veytsman, DDS, enamel actually starts out clear. “Enamel is a clear layer that surrounds each and every tooth and protects the inner layers,” Dr. Veytsman explains. “It’s mostly made up of minerals (calcium and phosphorus), and acts as the first line of defense against any damage or harmful substances.”
If you want to get really scientific, enamel is mostly comprised of a naturally occurring mineral that we find in our teeth and our bones. “Tooth enamel, scientifically speaking is a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite,” New York cosmetic dentist, Jason Kasarsky, DDS explains. “It is comprised of the mineral calcium phosphate.”
That structure is actually a lot stronger than you might think.
Beverly Hills, CA cosmetic dentist Kourosh Maddahi, DDS, says that as far as body parts go, enamel is probably the strongest. “It is one of the most durable and hardest structure in our body,” Dr. Maddahi says. “It’s even harder than bone.”
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be stained, damaged or even broken.
Early Intervention Saves Enamel
The overall health of your enamel is dependent on a few things.
“Tooth enamel can stain and decay because it is vulnerable to erosion from acids,” Dr. Kasarsky says. “Soda, fruit juices, sugary drinks and even coffee are prime culprits, because bacteria in the mouth love sugar, and those bacteria make acids that destroys enamel.”
But during that process of destruction, there’s actually a window where a lot can be done to refortify your enamel.
“A dentist or oral surgeon can definitely help to restore weekend enamel by improving its mineral content,” Dr. Veytsman explains. “Certain toothpastes and mouthwashes can also help with this.”
Remineralization is actually a daily process that your saliva is constantly working on. “Spot remineralization is a natural tooth-repair process,” Dr. Kasarsky says. “Saliva contains calcium and phosphate minerals, and those minerals get deposited into tooth enamel throughout the day.”
When products are advertising the ability to ‘restore’ your enamel, this is what they mean. Typically, those products will relying on calcium to accomplish that. “Calcium is the most important mineral for healthy teeth and can strengthen enamel,” Dr. Maddahi explains.
Damaged Enamel Can’t Be Restored
If your enamel is past the point of weakened and has been damaged, there’s no way to reverse that. “Decayed enamel can not be remineralized,” Dr. Kasarsky says. The case is the same when enamel damage is caused by injury or trauma, like in the case of a chipped tooth.
In those cases, and when enamel has decayed, your dentist’s job is to remove that decay and then fill the void left behind. Usually, this is where a crown would enter the conversation.
“Depending on the amount of damage we will use different methods,” Dr. Maddahi explains. “A small amount of damage can be fixed by placing a filling. With larger damage the treatment may involve restoring the tooth with a crown. And if the nerve is damaged in addition to the tooth, then root canal is also necessary in addition to a crown.”
Reparative procedures also include dental bonding and porcelain veneers.
“Once your teeth are past restoration, there are reparative procedures that dentists can offer you such as dental bonding, porcelain veneers, and crowns,” Dr. Veytsman says. “Dental bonding includes applying a dental resin to damaged teeth to help protect and prevent future damage, but for more serious situations, porcelain veneers and crowns can be installed to replace the damaged tooth.”
How to Strengthen Your Enamel
Supporting that remineralization process through calcium intake is a key way to ensure the longevity of your enamel.
“To strengthen your enamel, I would make sure you’re getting an ample amount of calcium, whether through food, vitamins, or oral healthcare products,” Dr. Veytsman recommends. “Top resources of calcium include milk and dairy products, as well as leafy greens, almonds, and various types of beans. If you have dietary restrictions, there are calcium supplements available that can contribute to your bone health, in addition to your oral health. Again, certain toothpastes and mouthwashes can also help to strengthen enamel.”
But of course, regular old consistent dental care is your most important step. “You need to be consistent in removing plaque, which is where bacteria that damage the enamel reside,” Dr. Maddahi explains. “You can do this by brushing, flossing and mouthwash.”
“Make sure you are keeping up with a consistent and healthy oral-hygiene routine, including fluoride toothpaste, flossing, and a mineral-infused mouthwash,” Dr. Veytsman adds. “This will not only boost your enamel health, but your overall oral health, as well. You should brush your teeth for at least two minutes, floss at least once a day, and pay special attention when eating crunchy or high acidic foods that could cause physical or chemical damage to your teeth.”
Seeing your dentist regularly is also a great way to keep your enamel healthy and strong, as a professional cleaning helps get rid of stubborn, hardened plaque. Your dentist can also suggest preventative options like dental bonding to protect your enamel and prevent sensitivity.
If you’re concerned about the state of your enamel, Dr. Kasarsky explains that there are signs that indicate weakening enamel. “Signs of weakening enamel are discoloration, chips, sensitivity, shiny areas on a tooth surface (mineral loss), pain and sensitivity,” Dr. Kasarsky says.