Tooth enamel consists of 96% minerals and is the hardest substance in the body, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Its strength makes it hard to imagine that, every day, some minerals are lost from inside the enamel crystals. But the good news is, these minerals are replaced through the molecular process of tooth remineralization.
What Is Demineralization?
An article published in the International Journal of Nanomedicine (IJN) states that tooth enamel contains hydroxyapatite, which is a combination of calcium, phosphate and hydroxide. Demineralization, or the loss of these minerals, can occur when then the bacteria that live in your mouth use the sugary foods you eat to produce acids. And although your enamel is resilient, if your teeth are frequently exposed to an acidic environment for long periods of time, the minerals will begin to dissolve out of the enamel.
That's why eating and drinking foods that have a high acidic content can harm your teeth. For example, the ADA says that drinking lots of sodas and sport drinks or eating very acidic fruits or juices can erode that strong layer of enamel, making your teeth more vulnerable to decay and infection.
How Teeth Become Remineralized
In its early stages, as the IJN article explains, demineralization can be arrested or reversed as your enamel recovers lost minerals through tooth remineralization. The major player in protecting and repairing tooth enamel is your saliva. Because it continually cleans food and bacteria from your teeth, saliva helps to neutralize acids in your mouth and prevent damage to your teeth.
Saliva contains many minerals, and a continual exchange of calcium and phosphorus ions takes place between your saliva and tooth enamel, notes the IJN article. This allows your enamel to repair itself. The presence of fluoride ions found in your saliva also helps to prevent demineralization and amplify remineralization. That's why a lack of salivary flow — whether resulting from a medical disorder or a medication you may be taking — can put you at a higher risk for tooth decay, notes the ADA.
Ways to Bolster Remineralization
Fluoride combines with the calcium and phosphate ions in tooth enamel to make it stronger and more resilient, which is why using a fluoride toothpaste can help you prevent cavities, according to the IJN article. There are other forms of topical fluoride to consider for you and your family, too, such as professionally-applied fluoride treatments and fluoride varnishes. Your dentist can also apply dental sealants to the chewing surfaces of your molars for added protection.
Amorphous calcium phosphate (ACP) is another ingredient found in many dental filling materials and commercial products. ACP helps to restore enamel by releasing calcium and phosphate ions that the tooth can absorb.
Steps You Can Take at Home
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, besides flossing daily and brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, you can also take these steps at home to protect your tooth enamel:
- Limit sweets in your diet.
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits, proteins and vegetables.
- Eat cheese: The calcium content in many cheeses and dairy products helps to promote strong teeth.
- Avoid snacking frequently between meals.
- Choose foods rich in vitamin C and phosphorous, such as broccoli and fish.
Remineralization is an ongoing natural process in your mouth, but there are steps you can take to ensure your enamel stays strong. If you want to prevent dental disease and keep your teeth for a lifetime, practice good oral hygiene and ask your dentist for advice.