Tooth enamel is composed almost exclusively of the mineral, hydroxyapatite, making it the hardest tissue in the body. And although it helps create beautiful smiles, its most important role is protecting the teeth's more sensitive inner layers. Occasionally, however, a child's teeth develop without this vital surface material. No enamel on teeth can put your child at a higher risk for several dental complications. Here's what you need to know about the condition, also called "amelogenesis imperfecta."
What Is Amelogenesis Imperfecta?
Amelogenesis imperfecta (AI) is an inherited defect that interrupts the formation of tooth enamel. Both baby teeth and permanent teeth can be affected, and according to the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Genetics Home Reference, one in 14,000 people in the U.S. carry some form of it. Amelogenesis imperfecta can occur alone, or it may be a part of a syndrome that affects other parts of the body. The gene mutations that cause it are usually passed down in families, but new gene alterations can occur – even without a family history of the condition.
What Does It Look Like?
In some cases of amelogenesis imperfecta – namely hypocalcification, according to the NIH – soft enamel develops, and eventually wears off the teeth and leaves the underlying layer of dentin exposed. There is also a hypoplastic form of the condition, which produces an abnormally thin layer of enamel that is still normal in hardness. The teeth appear small due to this thinness, and often discolored, pitted and prone to breaking.
Are There Complications?
Tooth enamel is the first line of defense against tooth decay. So when the soft layer of dentin isn't covered, teeth can decay rapidly, putting the nerves and blood vessels within the tooth at risk for infection. Because the teeth are usually rough and pitted, they also attract heavy plaque and tartar accumulations, which can lead to gum disease more quickly. And without enamel to insulate the tooth, tooth sensitivity – especially to hot and cold – can be extremely uncomfortable.
Treatment and Home Care
If you suspect your child's tooth enamel hasn't developed normally, see your dentist right away. He or she can easily diagnose this condition and work with you to discuss treatment options. In many cases, explains MedlinePlus, full crowns can protect the teeth from damage, reduce sensitivity and improve their overall appearance – all of which can be a boost to your child's self-esteem.
Because of the high risk of decay and gum disease, your dentist will want you to be extra diligent with your child's home care as well. Thoroughly brushing your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste such as Colgate® Enamel Health™ Sensitivity Relief can help stave off cavities and reduce ongoing tooth sensitivity in the interim. Flossing daily is still a must, as well as regular dental checkups and routine cleanings to remove any tartar buildup. You may also want to ask your dentist about in-office fluoride treatments, and more lasting solutions to sensitivity.
Of course you can't overlook the benefit of a healthy diet that is low in sugars and rich in vitamins and minerals. Teaching the essentials of these foods can go a long way to preventing dental disease, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's My Plate is a great resource for all parents looking to educate their families on proper eating.
No enamel on teeth that are new or permanent can present challenges for you and your child. With the help of your dentist, your family can be on its way to a beautiful smile and a healthy mouth for life.