Teeth. From the outside, they probably don’t look like they’re all that complex. After all, they’re so small, it’s hard to imagine there’s much going on inside of them. But believe it or not, these small but mighty bones are more complex than they look – and a lot different from the other bones in your body. Whether you’ve always wanted to know what goes on inside your teeth, or you never really thought about it before, knowing what’s going on inside your teeth can help you understand why it’s so important to take care of them, and better understand what’s going on in your dental procedures.
Teeth are the hardest substances in the human body. This comes in handy when crunching on foods like carrots and apples, and even breaking down softer foods like meats, cheeses and poultry. This is thanks to their tough outer layer, the enamel. The enamel is the rock-hard, white layer that we see when we smile. It is made mostly of a mineral called hydroxyapatite, a form of crystalline calcium phosphate. Despite its strength, enamel can weaken over time, but it can be remineralized by the calcium and phosphates found in your saliva and in the fluoride that may be found in your water, toothpaste and in fluoride treatments at your dentist’s office. But be careful! Even though it can be re-mineralized, once you chip your enamel, it cannot grow back and must be replaced by a filling. The enamel is also the first layer of the teeth to develop cavities, but at this level these early-stage cavities can often be reversed with the aid of fluoride.
The next layer of your teeth is the dentin. The dentin comprises living cells that communicate with the nerves of your teeth. This is why when you have receding gums or chipped teeth, your teeth may experience pain or sensitivity to cold or heat – because of the exposed dentin! Though it is made of living cells, dentin is a calcified, hardened tissue. If your teeth have cavities that pass through the enamel and into the dentin, they are no longer considered reversible and must be corrected with a filling before the cavity deepens to the pulp.
Beneath the dentin lies the pulp of the tooth. The pulp is where the nerves and blood vessels of your teeth reside. When you hear people discuss a root canal, they are talking about the removal of the pulp and vessels, or “roots” of your teeth, which have become infected. When the pulp is removed, the tooth is cleaned out and the pulp is replaced by a synthetic material before resealing. This material stabilizes the tooth so it remains strong, while removing the infection and hopefully easing the pain caused by the infection.
Your teeth are attached to your jaw by a material called cementum. Cementum is actually connective tissue, but much like its name implies, it is hardened and calcified, holding your teeth securely to your jaw. When a patient develops the advanced gum disease known as periodontitis, the cementum can become damaged, causing the patient to lose both tissue and teeth. Cementum works hand in hand with the periodontal ligaments, which are tissues that also hold the teeth in place and can be damaged or destroyed by gum disease.
Now that you know the layers of your teeth, hopefully you can better understand how these parts all work together, and why it is so important to protect them with proper oral care. If you have any questions or concerns about your teeth, gums or any other oral health issues, please give Dr. Abelar’s office a call at 858-866-9692.