Have you ever wondered what makes up a tooth? Each part of a tooth has unique functions and properties. Aetna's Simple Steps to Better Dental Health lists major parts of tooth anatomy, including enamel, dentin, cementum, root(s) and the root canal chamber(s) inside the tooth. Damaged teeth, especially teeth with cracked or eroded enamel, are very susceptible to cavities. Advanced gum disease, another oral health condition that threatens tooth health, attacks the bone of the teeth and may cause tooth loss. Understanding the function of each part of a tooth and the steps required to keep teeth healthy with home care and regular checkups are important components of oral health education for you and your family.
Tooth enamel is a protective barrier that surrounds the visible part of the tooth. It is composed of strong minerals, including calcium phosphate. Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, and healthy enamel is resistant to cavity-causing bacteria. Because of its mineral composition, tooth enamel is translucent. Fortunately, enamel can be strengthened. Fluoride, a common mineral, helps replenish deficits in tooth enamel. Parents can help replenish enamel at home with Colgate® toothpastes that contain fluoride. Dentists also offer special fluoride treatments. These are commonly administered to children to help keep their teeth strong and free from cavities.
Dentin is found underneath the enamel surface of the tooth and underneath the cementum that forms along a tooth's roots. Made of living cellular material and tissue, dentin is what makes up the majority of a tooth's structure. Dentin is a bone-like substance that contains microscopic tubules. Unlike enamel, exposed dentin is highly susceptible to the bacteria that cause dental cavities and can cause tooth sensitivity.
Cementum is a coating that surrounds the roots of teeth and is similar to enamel, but softer. Cementum assists with root stability by attaching to the fibers that anchor the tooth in the jawbone.
Much as a tree's roots help anchor it in the ground, a tooth's roots anchor it in the jawbone. This allows teeth to withstand the force of biting and chewing food on a daily basis. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, one major threat to the health of a tooth's roots is periodontal disease. This oral care disease is caused by bacteria in the dental plaque invading the gum tissue and supporting bone, thus leading to destruction of the bone holding the tooth or teeth in place. Tooth roots are integral to maintaining dental health. Even children can develop gum disease. Maintaining healthy oral hygiene practices — including thorough flossing and brushing — is an easy way to keep mouths healthy with home care. Regular dental cleanings for you and your family will also combat tartar and, ultimately, gum disease.
Root and Pulp Canals
Located inside the tooth in a hollow chamber is the root or pulp canal. A tooth may have one root and many premolar and molar teeth may contain two or three roots. It houses cellular material including pulp and the tooth's roots. This area of the tooth is extremely sensitive and is responsible for providing the blood flow and nutrients that are necessary to keep teeth alive. When this area is damaged or infected by extensive decay and trauma, root canal treatment is often necessary to save a tooth from extraction.
Learning about the basics of tooth anatomy will help you understand how oral health conditions form so that you can teach your children healthy dental habits. Explaining the unique biological makeup of teeth to your kids can also be a fun and productive way to introduce biological concepts in an easy-to-understand format.