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If enamel is the hardest substance in the body, why do teeth break?

Why do teeth break?

Teeth are made up of four main substances;

  • Enamel
  • Dentine
  • Cementum
  • Pulp
enamel hardest substance body teeth break

Enamel is the mineral layer which covers the outside of the crown of the tooth and is the hardest substance in the human body. Despite enamel being so strong, teeth are still at risk of breaking.

Factors which can lead to teeth break include:

  • Decay – risk factors which can lead to cavities in teeth include having lots of sugary foods and drinks in combination with plaque build-up. When sugar is consumed, an acid is formed which, over time, causes tooth enamel to soften and spread to the dentine underneath, causing a hole to develop. To reduce the risk of decay, you must reduce sugary foods and drinks, especially as snacks in between meals. Maintain a high standard of oral hygiene, involving brushing twice a day with a fluoridated toothpaste and flossing once a day. Visit your dentist and hygienist regularly to have your teeth checked and cleaned. Your dentist may recommend specific products to help strengthen your enamel, such as fluoride mouthwash or Tooth Mousse.
  • Trauma – teeth can break as the result of an injury or biting something particularly hard such as ice or a stray olive pit. To avoid teeth breakage due to injury, always wear a mouthguard during contact sports, including sports practice
  • Tooth wear
    1. Due to grinding – Night time grinding, also known as nocturnal bruxism, can lead to weakened enamel and resultant tooth fracture. Grinding can be caused by stress or anxiety, certain drugs and sleep apnoea. Signs of a grinding habit can include waking with a headache or sore jaw or a loved one may comment on being able to hear you grinding at night. Your dentist will be able to give you advice to help you stop the grinding habit and may prescribe a nightguard to help protect your teeth from excessive wear
    2. Due to erosion – Acids from certain foods and drinks, or from acid reflux, can lead to thinning of your enamel. Acidic foods include citrus fruits and foods pickled in vinegar. Acidic beverages include fruit juices, sports drinks and wine. Frequency of intake rather than total intake of acidic food or drinks is the greatest risk factor contributing to dental erosion. Therefore, try to minimise acid exposure to help maintain enamel and reduce the risk of subsequent tooth fracture. If reflux is a problem, your doctor will be able to provide appropriate advice

Ultimately, once tooth enamel has been lost, the damage is irreversible. So, in order to maintain a healthy smile for life, visit your dentist regularly, eat a healthy diet and practice optimal home dental hygiene and care.

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