Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone. It ranks 5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale, which means it is harder than steel, nickel, or iron. (By comparison, your fingernails have a hardness of 2 and your tooth dentin has a hardness of 3. (On the highest end of the spectrum is diamond, which ranks 10, so don’t chew on a diamond.) In this article from your favorite dentist in Sarasota, we’ll talk about some of the characteristics of enamel, as well as the factors that lead to the breakdown of this enamel and cavities in your teeth.
Tooth enamel covers the surface of your teeth with a hard mineralized substance that also contains some proteins, but no nerves or blood vessels. This means that your enamel is not nourished or monitored by your body the way a typical cell would be. Therefore, it has to last a lifetime in a mouth that is constantly being bathed with fluids that have various acidities and temperatures.
Did you know that cavities are related to bacteria?
Cavities in your teeth come from a combination of four factors present all at the same time: Carbohydrates (sugar) in contact with the surface of your teeth, a compromised tooth surface, a specific bacterial strain, and time. In fact, your dentist can perform a quick oral swab of your mouth and perform a test to see if you have the “bad” bacteria in your saliva. If you don’t, the chances of you getting cavities are much lower.
Still, it seems incredible that a tiny, seemingly weak and soft thing like bacteria could have any hope against your enamel. If you can’t scratch your enamel with a fingernail, how can a little bacteria have any hope of doing any damage to this extremely hard, seemingly impervious substance?
The answer is that the bacteria doesn’t directly “eat” your teeth. Instead, bacteria clump together and stick to the surface of your teeth in a substance called plaque. Over time, the bacteria eat the sugar and convert it to acid. The acid, in turn, causes the de-mineralization of the tooth surface. Once the pH of your saliva drops to 5.5, your tooth enamel will begin to be de-mineralized.
What can I do to counteract this?
It’s important to know how to counteract the action of the bacteria in your teeth. Even if cavities are not completely avoidable, you can at least do your best to give them the least possible chance of occurring. Here are a few tips from our dentist on what you should do:
- Brush your teeth twice a day. This will (a) help to remove the plaque on your teeth and (b) reduce the amount of time that plaque is in contact with the surface of your teeth.
- Tiny amounts of fluoride (available in most toothpaste and municipal water supplies) will help to kill the bacteria in your mouth.
- Understand the effect on your teeth of highly acidic drinks. You wouldn’t drink vinegar if your teeth were on the verge of getting cavities, but many people don’t realize that just consuming sugar water lowers the pH of their saliva to that dangerous 5.5 level for 30-60 minutes. Therefore, juice, soda, and sweet tea or coffee can take a big toll on your teeth.