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Tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body. It’s a semi-clear, hard, outer layer that protects your teeth from daily wear and tear. It also keeps you from feeling temperature extremes from the hot and cold things you eat and drink. Acids and chemicals that can damage your teeth are also fended off by it.

When this shell erodes, your teeth are more likely to get cavities and decay. You may notice you react more to hot or cold foods, drinks, and sweets, since they can get through holes in your enamel to the nerves inside.

A few easy habits can help you protect your pearly whites. But first you need to know what to watch out for.

What's Eating My Enamel?

Damage to your teeth’s outer layer can come from:

  • Too many sweets. Bacteria in your mouth thrive on sugar, and they make acids that can eat away at enamel. It gets worse if you don’t clean your teeth regularly.
  • Sour foods or candies. They have a lot of acid.
  • Dry mouth. Saliva helps prevent tooth decay by washing away bacteria acids and leftover food in your mouth. It also brings acids to an acceptable level.
  • Acid reflux disease, GERD, or heartburn. These bring stomach acids up to the mouth, where they can damage enamel.
  • Bulimia, alcoholism, or binge drinking. People with these conditions vomit often, which is hard on teeth.
  • Drugs or supplements that have a lot of acid. Think aspirin or vitamin C.
  • Brushing too hard. A soft brush and a gentle touch are best.
  • Grinding your teeth. Your dentist may call this bruxism. Too much of it can do damage.

What Are the Symptoms?

If your teeth start losing their outer shell, you might notice:

  • Pain when eating hot, cold, or sweet foods or drinks
  • Rough or uneven edges on the teeth, which can crack or chip when they lose their enamel
  • Smooth, shiny surfaces on the teeth, a sign of mineral loss
  • Yellow teeth
  • Cupping, or dents, that show up where you bite and chew