The average person will eat 35 tons of food in their lifetime. When I hear that, my first thought is, “That’s a lot of chewing!” It’s no wonder why our teeth were designed to be strong. Tooth enamel (the outer covering of each tooth) is stronger than bone. In fact, thanks to the strength of enamel, our teeth can actually outlast us.
This is great news, right? Unfortunately, I think it’s in my job description to share bad news: As strong as teeth are, they do not have the ability to repair or heal themselves. All other tissues in our bodies have the ability to heal themselves. For example, if you break a rib, your body will regrow bone to repair the fracture. If you nick your skin while shaving, a clot will form and new skin will grow.
Teeth are a collection of minerals that form as a young child. Because they are composed of minerals, teeth are durable and able to withstand much wear; however, once you lose enamel from the outside of the tooth, there is no way to bring it back.
If you break a tooth, it will not regrow itself. When structural damage occurs to a tooth, it’s important to have the tooth restored. When enamel is chipped or broken off, the next layer of the tooth is exposed. This layer is called dentin, and it is weak and will wear down quickly, unlike enamel. Dentin is more susceptible to attacks by bacteria and acid that your mouth encounters every day. Your mouth can be attacked by more than 300 different kinds of bacteria.
If bacteria spreads and a cavity gets so large that the tooth becomes infected, your body can’t get rid of that infection on its own. An antibiotic might help get rid of the infection for a short period of time, but then the infection will come back. Either root canal treatment or extraction of the tooth would be needed to clear the infection. Again this is different from other parts of your body where an infection can be treated with an antibiotic and some healing time. An infected tooth without dental treatment only gets worse with time.
One of the best things you can do is to check to make sure your toothpaste has fluoride in it. Fluoride is a natural mineral that strengthens enamel and helps prevent decay and fracture. Make sure to use that toothpaste every day, twice a day!
In dentistry, we use the word “restore” or “restorations” frequently. That’s because it’s our job as dental professionals to return teeth to a healthy state because they won’t do it on their own. By practicing good hygiene habits at home and visiting your dentist regularly, you can ensure you are doing everything you can to maintain healthy – and strong – teeth.
Mark Scallon, DDS