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What’s the hardest substance in the human body?

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The enamel on your teeth is the toughest substance in the body, but that doesn’t mean you can take it for granted. Read on here for the full story.

It’s one of the regular questions at the typical pub quiz – “what’s the hardest substance in the human body?” The answer of course, is the enamel on your teeth and it’s even harder than your jawbone or other obviously hard elements.

But first and foremost, what is enamel. Well it’s a little like an eggshell, protecting the softer inner parts of your tooth. And with regular care and attention, the enamel on your teeth should be well able to withstand normal levels of ‘abuse’ throughout your entire lifetime, putting up with chewing, crunching and biting for all of that time.

Does it make my teeth look white?

You might be fooled into thinking that your enamel is white – but it’s actually clear. The appearance of whiteness is from the dentin layer underneath the enamel.

With the passing of time, however, the enamel layer can become discoloured due to substances like red wine, tea or tobacco, for example. Depending on the level of staining, your teeth can end up appearing either yellow or a dull grey.

Is enamel truly bulletproof? 

Enamel is genuinely a very tough substance, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be breached. Acids from the food that you eat can eventually break it down. You can also chip it if you have an accident involving your mouth.

Unfortunately, unlike broken bones, it will not heal and can’t grow back on its own. And when the enamel is beached, it can give rise to cavities, which will inevitably need an intervention by your dentist.

The warning signs of enamel damage 

When the tooth enamel becomes damaged, the inner layer eventually gets exposed and the process of decay sets in.

This can lead to a number of problems. We’ve already mentioned cavities, but it can also lead to sensitivity to head or cold. Drinking hot tea or coffee or enjoying an ice cream suddenly becomes fraught with problems.

Bacteria and enamel

Pretty much as soon as you’ve eaten, the bacteria present in your mouth thrive on the sugars from starches and sweet foods. This, in turn, creates harmful acids that can eventually destroy the enamel. You can find harmful acids in some of the most unlikely sources, including fruit juices.

And believe it or not, although they appear so innocent, some of these are actually stronger and more corrosive than battery acid.

Wine and your enamel

Sad to say, that glass of wine that you enjoy in the evening can be really harmful to your enamel, and can cause both erosion and staining – a doubly whammy!

In particular, the action of swishing wine around your mouth makes sure that all sides of the tooth surface take their beating from harmful acids.

A useful tip here is that it’s better to enjoy the wine with a meal – over a short period – rather than sipping it for the night and letting it do cumulative damage. 

The role of saliva

Saliva is one of the good guys when it comes to washing away or diluting those harmful acids. It can even help restore your tooth enamel, so it’s obviously a very important part of your defence system.

Some people, however, suffer from a dry mouth – maybe from an illness or as a side effect to a drug. In this case, the acids are likely to stick around for that much longer, causing more damage than ever to the enamel of your teeth

The danger of grinding your teeth 

Another big problem for your enamel is teeth grinding – or bruxism, to give it its more formal name. If you do it for long enough, the regular friction can wear down the enamel – and even fracture it completely.

You may not be aware that you have this problem, because it’s at its worst when you’re asleep – and have no control over your teeth.

Some people address this by wearing a mouth guard at night, while relation techniques and a general reduction in stress can also help.

The bottom line is that your tooth enamel is very tough – but if can still do with a helping hand in terms of care and attention. The cost of remedying damaged veneers can be extensive, so prevention is much better than cure. Veneers cost several hundred Euro, so why not resolve that you won’t let it come to that.

The good news, however, is that if you do need veneers Dublin is a great place to find excellent, professional dentists – including our own here at MyDental.

Incidentally, if you’ve resolved to find out more about issues affecting your teeth this year, you could do worse than reading up on the objectives of the World Health Organisation’s Global Oral Health Programme – http://www.who.int/oral_health/objectives/en/