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
How Can I Protect My Enamel?
Good dental care is the best way to keep your mouth healthy.
- Cut down on acidic drinks and foods, like sodas, citrus fruits, and juices. When you do have something with acid, have it at meal times to make it easier on your enamel. You can also switch to things like low-acid orange juice.
- Rinse your mouth with water right after you eat or drink something acidic.
- Use a straw for sodas and fruit juices so they bypass the teeth. Don’t swish them around in your mouth.
- Finish a meal with a glass of milk or a piece of cheese. This will cancel out acids.
- Chew sugar-free gum. This lowers the amount of acid in your mouth. Gum also helps you make more saliva, which strengthens your teeth with key minerals.
- Drink more water during the day if you have dry mouth.
- Use a soft toothbrush. And try not to brush too hard.
- Wait at least an hour to brush after you've had acidic foods or drinks. They soften the enamel and make it more prone to damage from your toothbrush.
- Use fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. Your dentist can tell you which products can protect your teeth and make them less sensitive.
- Get treatment for conditions like bulimia, alcoholism, or GERD.
Can Damaged Enamel Be Repaired?
If you’ve lost some of it, there are ways to fix it. The best approach depends on your situation.
Tooth bonding can protect a damaged tooth and cover teeth that are worn down, chipped, or discolored.
If you’ve lost a lot of that outer shell, your dentist may cover the tooth with a crown to protect it from further damage.