From the interior to the exterior, your teeth are made of several different types of tissue. As the American Dental Association points out, there are four types of dental tissue. The innermost tissue is the pulp, which is soft and made up of nerves, connective tissue and blood vessels. Surrounding the pulp are three layers of harder tissues: the dentin, cementum and enamel.
The tooth enamel is the material on the outside of your teeth, on top of the dentin layer. It is made up of small segments called enamel rods. You can think of enamel as the skin of your teeth. Just as your skin protects your inner organs from harm, the enamel protects the interior parts of your teeth from harm. Here's what you need to know about the structure of enamel and what you can do to protect it.
What Are Enamel Rods?
Imagine you have a high-powered microscope. If you were to zoom in on your tooth enamel, you'd see that the surface of your teeth is made up of a series of tiny keyhole or fish-shaped prisms. An illustration from the University of Kentucky shows how these keyhole or fish-shaped pieces come together to form the enamel rods.
The rods are cylindrical structures. Each rod is made up of tightly packed hydroxyapatite crystallites. As an article published in Acta Biomaterialia notes, the rods extend between the occlusal surface of the teeth and the top layer of the dentin (known as the dentinoenamel junction).
Did you know that enamel is the hardest material in your body? The arrangement and structure of the rods might play a role in determining how crack-resistant the enamel is. For example, the keyhole shape of the rods allows them to be packed closely together, without any gaps between them. The rods are perpendicular (at a 90-degree angle) when they are closest to the dentinoenamel junction and parallel when nearest to the surface of the tooth, which helps keep the enamel from splitting and ensures that the surface of the tooth is smooth.
Protecting Your Tooth Enamel
Although your tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body, it's not unbreakable. It's also possible for the enamel to wear down, which is why it's important to protect your enamel.
When you break a bone, your body makes new bone material to heal the fracture and fix the bone. When you cut your skin, your body produces new skin cells to heal the wound. The body can heal itself because the materials in your bones and skin are living. However, enamel and enamel rods aren't living tissue. There's no way for the enamel to repair itself once it's worn, eroded or chipped.
That means protecting your enamel is essential. Using a fluoride toothpaste can help reduce the risk of enamel erosion, as the fluoride helps strengthen the enamel. Another way to protect your enamel is to avoid exposing it to substances that cause wear and tear, such as acidic foods. Some habits, including grinding your teeth or chewing on ice cubes, can also damage the enamel.
If you're concerned that your diet or habits are harming your enamel, talk to your dentist. They might recommend avoiding or limiting certain foods. If you grind your teeth, your dentist can fit you for a mouth guard to ease some of the pressure put on the enamel.
Taking care of your enamel is an essential part of your overall oral health. A regular oral care routine that includes brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing daily can help you protect your enamel for a lifetime.