Can Tooth Enamel Be Repaired?

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When we don’t have good dental hygiene or a healthy diet, the surface of our teeth, called enamel, can wear out over time. If not treated early on, the tooth enamel can be lost entirely. This condition is also known as enamel erosion or dental erosion. 

But once this happens, can tooth enamel be repaired? It depends on the extent of the damage. Keep reading to learn more about enamel erosion and if there is a way to treat it. 

What Is Tooth Enamel and Why Is It Important?

Enamel is a highly mineralized substance that covers the visible part of your tooth. So, basically, all the parts of your teeth that are outside of the gums are covered with enamel. 

Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. It acts as a barrier to protect the inner parts of the tooth, such as dentin and pulp. Even though enamel is extremely tough, the inside of your tooth is highly sensitive to different temperatures and substances. Enamel must be tough because it protects your teeth from grinding, chewing, biting, and crunching. 

The color of enamel varies from yellowish and off-white to grayish-blue white. Enamel also varies in thickness. Some people were born with stronger enamel, while others simply have weaker enamel and other environmental factors that make them more susceptible to tooth decay. 

What’s the Difference Between Enamel Erosion and Decay?

Even though tooth enamel is tougher than bones, it can wear out over time.  This process is formally known as demineralization, and it can happen due to several factors.  Once the enamel starts to erode, it puts the tooth’s sensitive dentin at risk. 

Enamel erosion, or dental erosion, occurs when acid starts to remove the enamel from your tooth’s surface. For instance, you might have yellow, stained teeth, increased tooth decay, shiny spots on your teeth, fractured teeth, and overly sensitive teeth.  

To a certain degree, the wearing away of enamel over time is a normal process as we age.  However, there are many ways to slow down the process over time, which I will discuss shortly.

If you have weakened enamel due to tooth decay, you may notice cracks and chips in your tooth, discolorations, increased sensitivity to hot, cold, and sweet food and drinks, and painful toothaches. 

Remember that enamel erosion and tooth decay aren’t the same things. While enamel erosion is caused by repeated acid attacks over time, tooth decay occurs due to bacteria build-up, and the harmful acidic byproduct they produce when exposed to sugars. 

Causes of Enamel Erosion

Enamel erosion is usually caused by a poor diet, acid reflux, and excessive vomiting. All of these causes have one factor in common – acid. 

Let’s start with external causes, such as acidic food and drinks. This includes acidic juices and foods. Carbonated soft drinks are another major cause of tooth erosion.  

Aside from acidic food and drinks, enamel erosion can also be worsened by dry mouth, a condition in which the mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva.  Without enough saliva, your mouth will not be able to wash away the acids after eating and drinking.

I had a young patient in my office once who loved to suck on lemons after school every day.  I was astonished to see the result of this bad habit.  He had worn off just about all of the enamel on his baby teeth!

Enamel erosion can also occur due to an illness or health condition that makes acid come into contact with the teeth. Some of the conditions include bulimia, acidic reflux, cancer or radiation therapy, and dry mouth syndrome from illnesses such as diabetes or Sjogren’s Syndrome.  Certain medications may cause a dry mouth as well.  

If you think you suffer from any of these issues, be sure to discuss your concerns with your dentist.  Don’t forget a dry mouth is more likely to get cavities.    

Can Tooth Enamel Be Repaired?

Enamel erosion is a common dental condition that can happen to anyone. You may maintain excellent dental hygiene but still get dental erosion. This brings us to the question – can tooth enamel be repaired?

Well, it depends on how damaged it is. While weakened enamel can be repaired, damaged enamel can’t be regrown. Since it doesn’t contain any living cells, there is no way for it to grow back. 

The good news is that the process of enamel erosion is long and can be broken down into stages. It won’t happen overnight. In other words, if your tooth enamel has weakened, there is still time to salvage it through remineralization.

During the remineralization process, your body replaces the minerals such as calcium, phosphate, and fluoride from your saliva and replaces the lost minerals in your enamel.  It’s the opposite of demineralization, which happens when acid breaks down the minerals in your tooth enamel. 

Just remember, you can’t build up or regrow new enamel to replace what was lost.  The best you can do is strengthen the existing enamel.

Speak to your dentist about the numerous toothpaste and rinse options that work for your situation.  For my pediatric patients, I routinely recommend these brands. 

Combined with a good diet and hygiene, I’ve seen great success with these products over the years.  

Prescription fluoride supplements are also available for children, but you will need to speak to your dentist and find out if a prescription fluoride treatment is appropriate.  

Can Tooth Enamel Be Repaired

Treatments for Lost Enamel

Even though you can’t restore lost enamel, some treatments can prevent further damage to the tooth. Depending on the extent of the damage, dentists usually opt for one of the following restorative treatments for enamel erosion: 

Fillings

Your dentist will drill a hole where the enamel is weakened and place a white colored filling inside. This preserves the tooth and makes it last much longer. This dental procedure is also used for cavities. 

Crowns

Your dentist can add a ceramic crown on top of your tooth to replace the damaged enamel. Not only can a crown restore a tooth’s shape, but it can also strengthen it.  A permanent crown is most often not recommended until a child is in their later teen years.  Stainless steel or tooth colored primary crowns are used for younger children.

Veneers

If the front part of your tooth is damaged, it can be covered with veneers. The majority of veneers are made of porcelain, and they’re permanently cemented to your teeth. 

While these three dental procedures can’t make your enamel grow back, they can prevent tooth decay and decrease sensitivity. In most cases, they improve your tooth’s appearance. But the best way to treat dental erosion is by preventing the issue to the best of your ability.

How to Strengthen Tooth Enamel and Prevent Erosion

Even though you can’t regrow the enamel lost due to dental erosion, there are various ways to prevent it. A good oral care routine and a healthy diet is the best way to keep your enamel healthy and strong. 

Brush your teeth at least twice daily, and use fluoride toothpaste. Also, make sure to floss at least once a day, and you can add mouthwash to your oral care routine. When you brush your teeth, make sure to do it for at least two minutes. 

However, if you’ve just eaten something acidic, make sure to drink some water and wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth. You should avoid brushing your teeth right after eating because the acid can soften your enamel, and if you start to brush your teeth right away, it can cause even more damage. 

When it comes to preventing enamel erosion, the best thing you can do is avoid acidic foods and carbonated drinks.  In addition, make sure to drink plenty of water to keep your mouth hydrated. You can also increase your saliva by chewing sugar-free gum. 

Whereas acidic foods and drinks are bad for enamel, calcium strengthens it. To have healthy teeth, you must eat food rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as yogurt, cheese, low-fat milk, dark green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, fish, tofu, and more.  If your body is deficient in calcium, it will need to take the calcium from your teeth and bones.    

Finally, we recommend going to the dentist at least twice a year for a regular check-up. 

Treating and Preventing Enamel Erosion

Enamel erosion happens when acid ruins your tooth enamel, which may have you wondering, “Can tooth enamel be repaired?”

The enamel can be strengthened, but not regrown, by one of the many ways discussed above.  If the erosion is severe, your dentist can replace and restore the lost enamel using a variety of dental procedures.  

Prevent erosion as best as you can, and discuss your concerns with a dental professional. 

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