Teeth are actually not made of a single material. They are made of 4 distinct parts: enamel, dentin, pulp, and cementum, each with a precise function.
Enamel is the outer layer of the tooth, the whitish colored smooth part we’re used to seeing. Tooth enamel is 96% mineral, primarily hydroxyapatite. Hydroxyapatite is a mineral made of calcium, phosphates, and hydroxide groups. This is strong and brittle, and gives the teeth their whiteness.
Dentin is a less mineralized tissue under the enamel. It is more similar to bone, and has a pale yellowy color that can show through if your enamel gets thin. Dentin makes up most of the tooth. It has more toughness than the enamel and supports it, giving the teeth some flex. Dentin is only 70% mineral, and once cavities reach the dentin, they may progress quickly because of its lower mineral content. It has a great deal of collagen, which helps give it its flexibility and toughness.
Dentin has tiny tubules that run through it to the border of the enamel or cementum. These are what convey heat and cold to the tooth pulp, causing tooth sensitivity.
Cementum covers the roots of your teeth. It is even softer than either enamel or dentin, and is a rough material which serves as an anchor for the periodontal ligaments, which anchor the tooth in the jaw. Receding gums can expose cementum, and when this occurs, you can usually see the difference between it and the enamel above. Cementum is only 45% mineral, and has a significant water content (about 20%). Decay can progress quickly through cementum once it is exposed.
The tooth pulp, also sometimes called the nerve of the tooth, is the soft interior of the tooth. The pulp contains cells that help generate the tooth during development, and the pulp also helps nourish tooth material. The pulp also has a blood supply. When bacteria reach the pulp, they can cause a serious infection that needs a root canal to treat or may require the extraction of the tooth to prevent bacteria from spreading through the body.
Your teeth are a complicated, sophisticated system. They are well-designed for their job, and if you take care of them, they will take care of you. If you need help caring for your teeth, please call (303) 975-6987 or contact Ascent Dental in the Cherry Creek area of Denver today.