Healthy teeth can withstand a significant amount of force. That’s because the enamel covering the inner structure of your teeth is substantially stronger than bone. While bone has the ability to repair and heal, your teeth do not.
Your teeth can withstand up to 30,000 pounds of comprehensive force, but they are vulnerable to bacteria, acidic foods, and temperature extremes. Once tooth enamel is compromised, the resulting damage is permanent and will progress unless the affected tooth is repaired by your dentist. Understanding the individual functions of each tooth and the vulnerabilities in the structure of your teeth could help reinforce your commitment to quality dental care.
The Significance of Individual Tooth Types
A healthy adult mouth contains 28-32 teeth. Most of your adult teeth make their appearance by the age of 13 or so, with the exception of wisdom teeth which erupt somewhat later in life. You likely learned early in life that you have four types of teeth and each tooth performs a valuable function. Healthy teeth perform the following tasks based on their shape and location:
- Incisors– There are eight incisors, the middle four teeth (upper and lower) in the center of your smile. The sharp biting surface of incisors makes them ideal for cutting food into chewable pieces.
- Canines- Next to your incisors are the canine teeth, there are four total, one on each side of your outermost incisors. These pointed teeth form the “corners” of your dental arch and perform the function of gripping and tearing food.
- Premolars -The first two flat teeth next to your canines are your premolars. There are eight premolars in total. Their purpose is to crush and tear your food. Premolars are unique to the permanent dentition, meaning adult premolars erupt to replace primary molars.
- Molars– You have a total of eight molars, the two larger teeth on the far side of your premolars. Molars are the largest teeth in your mouth and perform the functions of crushing and grinding as food is chewed.
- Third Molars – Your third molars are more commonly called wisdom teeth, third molars typically erupt around the age of 18. It is common to have third molars surgically removed to keep other teeth from shifting.
You may have noticed that premolars have two points (cusps) on the surface while molars have four. Premolars and molars both have pits and crevices between the cusps, which can make them more susceptible to decay than incisors or canines.
Understanding the Structure of Your Teeth
Although your teeth have different shapes and functions, their anatomy is the same. Each tooth consists of the same four components and is attached to the underlying (alveolar) bone with periodontal ligaments. The following four components give your teeth their structure and strength:
Tooth enamel covers the crown of your tooth, the portion of your tooth above your gum line and slightly below the surface of your gums. Enamel is the hardest substance in your body, even harder than bone, and protects your teeth from wear and decay. While tooth enamel is strong, it can demineralize and become porous. Minor demineralization can sometimes be corrected with proper nutrition and conscientious oral care.
The hard substance that covers the root of your tooth is the cementum. This substance is thinner than enamel and not as strong, having a hardness similar to bone. Cementum is more vulnerable to damage than enamel and can be abraded by the bristles of a firm toothbrush. When cementum is exposed teeth may become sensitive to temperature.
Beneath the surface of enamel and cementum is the layer that makes up the majority of your tooth structure, the dentin. Dentin is more porous than the outer surface, comprised of microscopic tubules. There are three types of dentin. Primary dentin is present when a tooth first erupts, while secondary dentin continues to form during the lifespan of the tooth. The third type of dentin, reparative dentin, forms in response to inflammation or trauma. Because dentin is softer than enamel, decay that permeates dentin can spread rapidly.
The pulp of the tooth contains the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth. There are two pulp chambers. There is one chamber located within the crown of the tooth; the second chamber is in the roots. A pulp chamber exposed to decay is vulnerable to infection and may require root canal therapy to save the tooth. Pulp chambers are fairly large when a tooth first erupts, but decrease in size as secondary dentin is formed.
Potential Conditions Affecting Tooth Health
Dental care is a lifelong endeavor, a consistent commitment to brushing, flossing, rinsing, and regular dental examinations with professional cleaning. By visiting your family dentist regularly, your dentist has the opportunity to identify small problems before they become a significant personal and financial burden. Just a few of the many potential conditions that can compromise your oral health include:
More commonly known as tooth decay, dental caries are caused by acids created as certain foods break down on your teeth, particularly sugars. These acids are strong enough to erode tooth enamel and eventually form tiny holes on the surface of teeth. Early detection of dental decay commonly results in a smaller restoration, preserving more of the natural tooth.
Dental plaque around or between your teeth can trigger an immune system response that causes gum tissue inflammation. Gingivitis can also be caused by hormonal changes, dry mouth, some prescription medications, and several chronic health conditions. Many people are not aware they have developed this early form of gum disease. Early detection and treatment of gingivitis can halt the progression and reduce your risk of developing periodontal disease. Symptoms include tender or inflamed gums, bleeding while brushing or flossing, and a receding gum line.
Periodontitis is a serious form of gum disease that damages soft tissues and erodes the bone supporting the teeth. Since periodontitis can destroy the ligaments that support your teeth, there is a high risk of tooth loss. It is important to be on alert for the signs of periodontal disease since periodontitis increases your risk of other chronic health concerns. Just a few of the many potential symptoms of periodontal disease include swollen gums, gum recession, new spaces forming between teeth, and loose teeth. You can reduce your risk of periodontal disease by having your teeth cleaned as often as your dentist recommends to remove disease-causing plaque below the gum line.
Cracked or Broken Teeth
Biting on hard objects ( like hard candy or popcorn kernels), extreme temperatures, and failed dental restorations can cause teeth to crack or break. While some cracks are superficial and need no treatment, others require dental intervention. Broken teeth can often be restored with bonding or a crown depending on severity, but should be addressed quickly to avoid further damage to tooth structure. You may not be aware of a crack until you notice pain or sensitivity while chewing.
Dental Infection or Abscess
Once decay compromises tooth enamel bacteria can infect a tooth. A dental abscess can also result from a failed dental restoration. There are several types of dental abscesses, from mild to severe, but all need to be professionally evaluated. A dental infection can also involve the mouth, face, and jaw. Just a few of the possible signs or symptoms of a dental abscess include tooth pain, tenderness to the touch, and facial swelling. While some dental abscesses will form a visible nodule on the gums, X-rays may be necessary to identify smaller abscesses in the depths of the tooth.
Your oral health can also be significantly impacted by missing teeth. While your jawbone supports your teeth, your teeth support the health of the bone. Missing teeth leave areas of bone understimulated which can result in bone loss. That open space also allows neighboring teeth to shift and potentially expose vulnerable tooth roots. Missing teeth can be replaced with partials, bridges, and dental implants.
Renewing Your Commitment to Oral Health and Rejuvenating Your Smile
Ideally, oral health is a commitment made early in life and persistently maintained through the years. If your busy lifestyle has gotten in the way of consistent dental care, it’s never too late to renew your commitment and restore the health and appearance of your smile. For complete dental care in New York, NY, contact Esthetix Dental Spa. From preventative dentistry to complete smile makeovers, Esthetix Dental Spa offers the latest in dental technology while providing a wide range of treatments including general dentistry, laser dentistry, periodontic treatment, and same-day computer aided tooth restoration.