It is true that the teeth are the hardest substance in the human body, harder even than bone. In fact, your teeth are amazing structures when you think about all they do and the pressure they are subjected to for decades. Individuals who make it to old age with most of their original teeth intact are especially fortunate. In the last five decades, most adults not living in poverty and over the age of 65 have managed to keep most of their teeth as compared to early and mid-20th century seniors.
Still, tooth loss is a concern at all ages. Dental decay and periodontal disease are the culprits that lead to the vast majority of tooth loss. Both of these can be prevented with good oral hygiene and regular visits to the dentist. There are other factors that can affect the health of your teeth as well. Cracked and damaged teeth can lead to tooth loss, especially if not attended to early.
Facts About Tooth Enamel
Your tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body. It is also the most mineralized tissue. Although it is thin, it is very hard and translucent and completely covers the anatomic crown of the tooth. The color and thickness of enamel can vary from tooth to tooth, and it will be different in different people. Natural tooth color ranges from yellowish to a grayish white.
Tooth enamel is not living tissue. There are no nerves in the enamel, nor does it have a blood supply. The enamel is mostly made up of inorganic substances, unlike other parts of the body. The strong hydroxyapatite crystals that form tooth enamel are about 95% to 98% calcium and phosphate ions. These crystals are not pure due to the trace minerals they contain and they are carbonated. Pure hydroxyapatite is not as soluble as this “biological Hydroxyapatite.” Water is also contained in tooth enamel as well as organic, enamel-specific proteins.
The structure is highly organized, with the hydroxyapatite crystals being arranged in long, thin rods. Depending on the tooth, there may be from 5 million rods in a tooth (lower lateral incisors) to 12 million (upper first molars). There are minute spaces between the rods called pores. These areas where there are not crystals make enamel permeable. It is this permeability that can cause teeth to become prone to demineralization. When there is loss of calcium and phosphate ions, the enamel becomes thin and will be more susceptible to decay.
Your Teeth Were Meant to be Durable
Ideally, your teeth should last your entire lifetime. In fact, teeth can last for hundreds of years. Teeth have been vital in telling the story of human history. Because of dental remains, it was revealed that the first travelers to leave Africa for China headed out about 80,000 years ago. Teeth also led to the discovery that early humans used a simple form of aspirin for pain relief.
When your teeth are healthy, they can resist decay; but they need your help. Good oral hygiene is necessary in order to fight off the many types of bacteria that can attack tooth enamel. In fact, there are more than 300 types of bacteria that can cause harm to your teeth. Sugary drinks and snacks add to the onslaught by feeding the bacteria that cause decay.
Other parts of your body have the innate power to repair damaged tissue. Teeth do not have this advantage. When a tooth is damaged, the only way for it to be repaired is with the professional help of a dentist. Not all teeth can be repaired. Sometimes a tooth is beyond repair and will need to be extracted.
Causes of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay begins subtly. There are many conditions that can lead to the formation of dental caries. Most commonly, tooth decay is caused by poor oral hygiene. When you do not brush your teeth regularly or correctly, the bacteria in your mouth have the opportunity to create the acids that eat away at tooth enamel. You may have areas that are difficult to reach and therefore more vulnerable to decay. This is also why regular visits to the dentist are important. When your teeth are professionally cleaned, the hygienist can reach those areas that may be challenging for you. Also, your dentist can check to see if decay or gum disease are present. If you have untreated cavities, you risk eventually losing the affected teeth.
Tooth decay can also be the result of deep tooth crevices and enamel issues. Particularly when the molars first come in, they have deep crevices and fissures. There are places where bacteria and plaque can easily grow and cause problems. The best way to prevent dental decay in these areas is to have them protected with dental sealants before decay has an opportunity to develop.
Proper nutrition is very important to keep teeth healthy. When you eat or drink an abundance of sugar, carbohydrates and acidic foods or beverages, you increase your chances for tooth decay. Eating a healthy diet and keeping sugar to a minimum or avoiding it altogether will help keep your teeth healthy. The bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar. Acids are produced as a result, and these acids eat away at tooth enamel. Most people are unaware of the hidden sugar in foods and do not realize how much sugar they are actually consuming. For example, fruit juice, though healthy in vitamins, is also full of sugar, as are sodas.
Medical conditions and medicines that cause dry mouth can also lead to dental decay. Your saliva helps inhibit the growth of plaque by constantly bathing your teeth. When you have dry mouth, you have less saliva than normal and consequently, the bacteria are not constantly being flushed away. Your dentist can work with you to help minimize the effects of dry mouth on your teeth.
Bruxism, or tooth grinding, can not only lead to decay, it can also damage teeth. Constant grinding of your teeth while sleeping or under stress erodes the enamel. As the enamel becomes thinner, your teeth become more vulnerable to decay. Getting a nightguard to wear while sleeping can help eliminate the damage caused by grinding your teeth.
In most situations, cavities are preventable. Despite that being the case, it is a very prevalent problem. Among children, it is most chronic disease of children between the ages of 6 to 11 years of age and teens between the ages of 12 to 19. Adults are not immune either. About 9 out of 10 adults have some stage of tooth decay.
Your teeth are among the most amazing structures in your body. Taking care of them should be a priority. With all the choices of toothpastes, flossing gadgets, mouthwash and tongue brushes available, good oral hygiene should not be an issue for most people. Your dentist or dental hygienist can show you the proper way to brush and floss your teeth and give you guidance on the best products to use to keep your teeth healthy and free from cavities. Teaching little ones the importance of good oral hygiene from the very beginning will go a long way in helping them develop good habits that can last a lifetime.
At Aesthetic & Implant Dentistry of Atlanta, we can help you keep your smile healthy and looking beautiful. Give us a call and schedule an appointment with us for excellence in dental care.