Demineralization / RemineralizationThe hard outer layer of your teeth, known as enamel, is the hardest substance in the human body. Tooth enamel is made primarily from minerals and a small amount (about 4%) of water and organic material.  The primary ingredients of enamel are calcium ions and phosphate ions that occur naturally in your body.

Demineralization (more commonly known as tooth decay) occurs when your teeth are exposed to sugar, starches and/or acids for an extended period of time so that they breach the enamel.  Once the enamel is breached, demineralization will begin, leaching some of the mineral content (such as calcium out of the enamel or dentin (the second layer of a tooth, made up of calcified tissue and has millions of tiny tubules that lead to nerve endings).

Areas where demineralization has occurred may be sensitive to pain, pressure, and sensitivity to heat and cold, even if cavities haven’t yet formed.  If you feel any of these symptoms, a visit to your dentist is a good idea in order to find out the extent of demineralization.  Individuals with braces are especially susceptible to demineralization because brackets attached to the teeth act as food traps.

Some of the foods that are good for your overall health are the worst when it comes to your teeth. Citric acid such as that found in lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange juice are extremely corrosive to tooth enamel.  Tomatos are very high in acid, as is vinegar and any vegetables processed with vinegar, such as pickles, sauerkraut, and canned beets.  Brushing or thoroughly rinsing your mouth within a hour of consuming these foods can help prevent demineralization of the tooth enamel.  If you are unable to clean your teeth within an hour, consider avoiding these types of foods until you can do so.

If your dentist finds only the smallest beginnings of demineralization (often appearing as white areas on your teeth), he/she may not feel that it warrants an immediate filling but may instead choose to check it again at your next 6-month appointment to see if there is any improvement.  It is possible that, with proper oral hygiene and a healthy diet which includes essential minerals, remineralization may occur and repair the damage.  More extensive damage or a cavity, however, may require a filling in order to keep the tooth from decaying further.

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