If you think your bone is the hardest part of your body, then you are mistaken. This title belongs to the enamel, the outer layer of the tooth. Because of the components it is made up of, tooth enamel ranks 5 on Mohs hardness scale which makes it about as hard as a steel knife. Enamel provides protection to the nerves present within the tooth. In a recent study, published in the journal Nature, scientists examined the structure of enamel to find the reason behind the strength of the enamel.
What is enamel made up of?
Around 95% to 98% of the structure of enamel is made up of calcium and phosphate ions that make strong hydroxyapatite crystals. These are not pure crystals as they contain traces of other minerals such as strontium, magnesium, lead, and fluoride.
What makes enamel extremely hard?
To examine the structure of enamel, scientists from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University, USA tested a few samples of it that were cooled with liquid nitrogen to around minus 298 degrees Fahrenheit. These samples were then examined with the help of cryogenic electron microscopy.
This test showed the exact structure of enamel crystallite and its hydroxylapatite molecules. The scientists found that the crystal structure of enamel was not clear as it showed dark regions of distortion. These distortions were caused by two nanometric layers enriched with magnesium, sodium, fluoride and certain carbonate ion impurities which were near the core of the crystal structure.
It was found that these irregularities produce strain in the structure of the enamel. But the test also showed contradictory data which stated that these irregularities and the core-shell structure of the enamel make it more resilient.
The scientists believe that by studying more about the structure of the enamel, they will be able to find a way to prevent lack of mineralisation in teeth during the formation of enamel (before they erupt in the mouth).
How to protect your enamel from getting damaged?
There are certain things that can be done to prevent your tooth enamel from getting damaged:
- Brush your teeth with a soft or ultra-soft bristled toothbrush as this would not grind the outer layer of the enamel.
- Do not use twigs of trees such as neem and babool to clean your teeth as it will slowly grind the enamel.
- Do not use tooth cleaning powders and even some toothpaste which claim to have abrasive herbs as continuous use of these can wear off the outer surface of the enamel.
- Improve your brushing habit by brushing your teeth in a circular motion.
- Try to avoid drinking carbonated beverages and alcohol as they can erode the enamel.
- Do not try to open the lid of bottles with your teeth as it might cause trauma to your teeth.
- If you have a habit of grinding your teeth while sleeping (medically called bruxism) you might require a nightguard, a custom-made wearable appliance made out of Biostar sheet which covers either your upper or lower teeth.
- Try getting into the habit of brushing your teeth before sleeping as it prevents the accumulation of cavity-causing bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans.
- You can get fluoride application done on the surface of the teeth to prevent a bacterial attack.
For more information, read our article on Cavities (Dental Caries).
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