Tooth Enamel: Strongest Substance in Your Body, But no Match for Acids

Posted Aug 2019

By Delta Dental of Arkansas

Tagged dentin, minerals, acid reflux, sugar, bacteria, cavities, acids, plaque, fish scales, bone, hardest substance, tooth enamel, oral health, enamel

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Tooth Enamel: Strongest Substance in Your Body, But no Match for Acids

Revised January 2022

The anatomy of a tooth

Here is something to chew on if you can: Tooth enamel is the hardest substance a vertebrate (an animal with a backbone) has in its body. It’s harder than bone! But it’s still no match for bacteria and acids that can cause tooth enamel erosion.

So what is tooth enamel, exactly? And if it’s the hardest substance in your body, why does tooth enamel erode?


What is Tooth Enamel?

Researchers discovered a few years ago that certain types of fish have enamel on both their teeth and scales that share similar genetic makeup. They concluded that tooth enamel may have originated as fish scales based on that observation. 

There is nothing fishy about the enamel of your teeth, though.

Let’s look at a tooth’s anatomy.

A tooth consists primarily of

  1. the crown, the visible white part, and
  2. the root underneath the gum line, which you can’t see.

These parts contain different types of tissue:

  • Enamel. It covers the tooth’s crown and protects it from daily wear and tear. It is made up almost entirely of minerals that make up 96% of the tooth, more than any other part of the human body. Because enamel contains no living cells, it cannot repair itself. Only a dentist can fix damaged enamel. 
  • Dentin. Also made up almost entirely of minerals, it sits underneath the enamel, where it functions as a shock absorber for our enamel. When you crunch ice cubes or bite into crunchy bread, the dentin absorbs that pressure.

    Up to a point.

    The dentin can’t do its job correctly and the outside enamel may crack or fracture if 

    • You bite down on something very hard, like a peach pit or a nutshell
    • You try to grip a package with your teeth
    • You grind your teeth or
    • Your teeth are in poor health.
  • Tooth pulp. This is the most vital part of the tooth. Of a jelly-like consistency, it provides the tooth with nutrition and moisture and creates dentin.
  • Blood vessels and nerves. They are part of the tooth pulp and supply blood and feeling to the whole tooth.

Check out how acidic beverages and acid reflux can impact your enamel, how to prevent enamel erosion, and how to tell if you have tooth enamel loss today.

How Does Enamel Erosion or Damage Occur?

Two main conditions may lead to enamel erosion or damage:

  1. An injury to the mouth, frequently from sports. 
  2. The food and drink you eat. A thin film of bacteria called plaque covers your teeth. The bacteria interact with every morsel of food and every sip of liquid you consume to form acids. These acids then attack the tooth enamel and can cause cavities, i.e., holes. That’s why regular flossing and brushing is so important: it removes food particles and reduces plaque buildup.

The takeaway: Even though enamel is the hardest substance in your body and dates its origins to fossil records that are more than 400 million years old, it needs proper TLC to withstand excessive pressure and acids.

How to Avoid Damage to or Erosion of Tooth Enamel

A few relatively simple adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits can go a long way toward protecting your tooth enamel.

  1. Chew slowly and carefully when eating hard foods such as nuts. Stop crunching ice cubes and hard candy. Don’t bite down on pencils, fingernails and other non-food items.
  2. Wear a mouthguard when playing certain competitive and recreational sports. 
  3. Cut down on sugary foods and drinks. 

    When plaque bacteria encounter sugary foods and drinks, they have a field day and rev up the acid production. Keep desserts, candy and sweetened beverages to a minimum and rinse your mouth with water afterward.

  4. Cut down on acidic foods and drinks. And give your teeth extra love if you suffer from acid reflux.

Acidic substances wear away the enamel of your teeth the fastest.

Foods and beverages are considered acidic if they have a pH of 4.6 or lower. Popular acidic drinks include

  • lemon juice (2.5 pH)
  • soda (avg. pH of 3.2)
  • cocktail juice (avg. pH of 2.8)
  • sports drinks, (avg. pH of 3.3)
  • flavored teas (avg. pH of 3.5)

What About Water?

Plain water is considered “basic,” or the opposite of acidic. It can actually rinse away the acid that sits on our teeth after you drink acidic beverages.


Do You Suffer From Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is another condition that may harm tooth enamel.

If you suffer from acid reflux, you will notice that you can’t always keep your stomach acid from rising into your mouth. When this highly corrosive substance comes into contact with your teeth, it can wear away your tooth enamel.  

A dentist is often the first one to spot the damage caused by acid reflux.

Don’t brush your teeth right away if you drink acidic beverages or experience acid reflux. Brushing your teeth directly after they have been in contact with acidic drinks or corrosive stomach acid can actually erode your tooth enamel


  1. Rinse your mouth with plain water and
  2. Wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth.


Symptoms of Enamel Erosion

These are some common signs that you could have enamel erosion: 

  • Pain or sensitivity when consuming drinks that are hot, cold or sweet

  • Yellowish discoloration of the teeth
  • Your dentist notices you have an increased risk for cavities over time.

In extreme cases, enamel erosion can lead to a tooth abscess or even tooth loss. Seeing a dentist regularly will ensure that he or she can monitor any changes occurring in our mouth and take action to prevent things like an abscess or tooth loss.  


Looking for Dental Insurance?

If you are looking for dental insurance, check out our plans for individuals, familiesand groups. We offer different levels of coverage and benefits and access to one of Arkansas’s largest networks of dental providers. 

Use this handy tool to find a dentist or dental specialist in your area. 

individual and family plan button  group plans button 

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Posted by Delta Dental of Arkansas



Posted by Delta Dental of Arkansas

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