Ask the Dentist: If teeth are diamonds it's enamel that gives them real value

Enamel protects teeth and helps them work properly but we have to take care of it – and sooner than you'd think, writes Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

Adult teeth begin to develop in the womb, in about the 20th week of pregnancy
Lucy Stock

“EVERY tooth in a man's head is more valuable than a diamond.” So said Miguel de Cervantes, celebrated Spanish author of Don Quixote.

Well said, and I'm sure many people would wish them to be as hard wearing as diamonds but, alas, they are not.

Teeth do, however, win the medal of being the hardest substance in the human body. Hardness of materials is measured on the Mohs 10-point scale, with diamonds coming in at number one and teeth around the middle, ranking number five – harder than gold, silver, iron and steel.

Enamel's strength comes from its composition and it serves us well when the biological soup is just right to allow optimal development. Adult teeth start developing when the baby is still in the womb, at around the 20th week of pregnancy.

So, it's crucial that the mum eats a balanced diet packed with adequate amounts of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, Vitamin K2 and vitamin D to help enamel form properly. This will give strong, white, normal-shaped teeth that can function for decades and are the best at resisting decay.

As with any part of the body, things can go haywire when our enamel is forming and this can leave the tooth with yellow, brown or bright white spots. This type of enamel is not strong and chips and decays very easily.

As I mentioned, one part of normal enamel formation is having the right ingredients to make the tooth, but factors such as genetics also play a role. Other things like medicines can also disrupt teeth from forming perfectly. Take antibiotics, like the tetracyclines, which have been shown to leave bands of dark browns and yellows throughout the teeth.

It has also been suggested that the commonly used amoxicillin antibiotic may disturb the formation of enamel in children which can leave the front teeth and first big molar teeth with white crumbly patches on them. Obviously, some childhood infections require antibiotics to kick them into touch to avoid serious consequences so need to be taken.

If the teeth do grow in with less than perfect enamel, there are protective treatments and home care ideas that the dentists will suggest.

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