What are Teeth Made of? (The Theory of Dental Care)

Can learning the answers to questions like, “what are teeth made of” help you keep your own teeth healthier? And, can it empower you to do more for your smile, all while paying less?

Here at The Dental Team, we’re confident the answer to those questions is “yes.”

Dental costs keep climbing—and many Canadians skip necessary care. According to a report by the Canadian Dental Association, Canadians spend roughly $13.6 billion on dental care each year.

Is there a way to get better dental health while spending less? 

Achieving better oral health is an attainable goal, but to reach it, you’ll need a wide range of tools in your arsenal. One of the best weapons to have at your disposal?

Knowledge.

With this guide, you can arm yourself with in-depth knowledge about the science of your teeth—the biology, chemistry, and physical science that makes one of our most useful body parts work. 

Then, we’ll help you apply that knowledge to improve your own oral health. Read on to learn what teeth are made of, and what that means for taking care of them on a budget. 

The Theory of Dental Care: Overview

The study of dental care starts with the study of teeth. This begins by discovering that the answer to questions like, “What are teeth made of—calcium?” is, “yes, but also, so much more than that.”

Tooth composition is only part of the equation. Tooth structure is another. And tooth maintenance takes what we know of both and uses tools to counteract enamel destruction. 

What Are Teeth Made Of?

For such a small body part, the tooth is surprisingly complex. Both its fabrication and structure hold surprises.

For one thing, a tooth isn’t, as people sometimes guess, a bone. So many people wonder if teeth are bones that the phrase, “what are teeth made of, bone?” is one of the most common dental-related questions we Google.

This misconception may arise from oversimplified answers to questions like, “what minerals are teeth made of?” The easy-enough answer is “calcium.”

Since bones are also 99% calcium, the misassumption that the two are the same spreads. And, some bone and teeth minerals beyond calcium overlap.

Teeth have many aspects that distinguish them from bones. For one thing, teeth have enamel, and bones do not. For another, bones house marrow, which creates white blood cells. Teeth do not have marrow. 

Instead, to understand what teeth are made of in greater depth, divide them into two parts: the root and the crown. 

Tooth Crown 

The crown of the tooth is external. It grows from the jaw bone, and it covers the tooth. 

The tooth crown is made of enamel and dentin. Specialized cells called ameloblasts create enamel by covering developing teeth with carbonate-hydroxyapatite.

Enamel

As the enamel matures, the organic elements fall away. It forms a hard protective coating over the coronal dentin. This final form of enamel is made largely of non-living hydroxyapatite. It’s also made of three proteins:

  • Amelogenin
  • Enamelin
  • Perlecan

Enamel is also filled with calcium and magnesium deposits. These deposits make the enamel stronger. When ameloblasts create enamel tissue, they modulate and transport calcium that other enzymes extract from food. 

Enamel is entirely non-living. When it is destroyed, an adult body cannot regenerate it. 

Cementum

Some of the dentin in the tooth crown is also covered by cementum. Cementum is a “mineralized tissue,” and it can be regenerated if it is slightly damaged.

Cementum protects the root of the tooth, and it connects the root to the crown. 

Roughly 50% of cementum is made of hydroxyapatite, similar to that in enamel. But cementum is also made of water and organic (living) components. These include:

  • Collagen fibres
  • Protein polysaccharides

Unlike enamel, cementum is sensitive. It is yellower than enamel, which is typically white. If your tooth feels sensitive to cold, part of the enamel has likely decayed and the cementum is exposed. 

Tooth Root

The tooth root is the most sensitive part of the tooth. It is composed of pulp and Hertwig’s epithelial root sheath (HERS) cells. The pulp comprises nerve endings, blood vessels, and some ligament tissue. 

When the tooth root is exposed, it is very painful. If an infection or tooth decay injured the tooth root, you may need serious dental health intervention—including, potentially, a root canal or an extraction. 

What Causes Tooth Erosion and Decay?

Tooth erosion and decay destroy enamel and expose the centum of the tooth. If it goes on for long enough, it can expose the root of the tooth, which is incredibly painful. 

Four factors cause or accelerate tooth erosion and decay:

  • Pathogens
  • Saliva acidity
  • Dry mouth
  • Mechanical force

To improve oral health, it’s important to address all four factors. 

Pathogens

Pathogens are living organisms that cause infections. Organisms often feed on sugars stuck to plaque in the mouth. Plaque itself is typically a bacterial community that forms in the mouth.

The most common bacteria causing tooth decay is Streptococcus mutans. 

Certain infectious fungi, like Candida albicans, also cause tooth decay. An overgrowth of Candida in the mouth is called “thrush.” Viruses in the herpes family can also contribute to decay. 

Saliva Acidity

Healthy saliva has a pH of “7,” which is neutral. But, certain conditions and medications can alter the pH of saliva. When saliva becomes acidic—particularly below a pH of 5.5—tooth decay increases in severity and speed. 

A low natural salivary pH is a useful biomarker. That is, when a person’s saliva has a naturally acidic pH, it’s a reliable indicator of severe dental disease in the future. 

Dry Mouth

The medical name for chronic dry mouth is xerostomia. Dry mouth is a condition where the body does not produce enough saliva. 

It is fairly common. Unfortunately, without enough saliva, tooth decay is faster and more severe. 

Mechanical Force

Mechanical force can be the result of grinding or jaw injury.

Recent tomographical studies show that the molecules in teeth are arranged in a lattice structure. But, strong mechanical force can break parts of the lattice.

This weakens the teeth and makes them more vulnerable to infection and decay.

What Are the Best Ways to Improve Oral Health?

Improving oral health is a worthwhile project. The best ways to improve oral health are threefold:

  • Prevent tooth decay
  • Treat tooth decay
  • Strengthen teeth

Prevention is best done with hygiene products. These are products that clear away plaque and kill germs. Toothpaste with fluoride, floss, and mouthwashes that reliably destroy biofilms are the best tools. 

Avoid Acids and High-Sugar Products

However, be sure to avoid products that kill germs at the expense of living oral tissues. Also, try to avoid acidic products, as this can contribute to the acidification of your saliva’s pH. 

Beverages like soda are highly acidic due to the carbonization process. They also increase plaque due to the high sugar content. 

Use Routine Dental Care

To treat tooth decay, you need professional dental services. Dentists have to remove the decayed tissue. Then, they cover the remaining, healthy tissue with a protective filling. 

To prevent decay, it’s ideal to see the dentist every six months.

Remineralize Teeth

Strengthening teeth helps them resist decay and mechanical force. Tooth remineralization products can help strengthen teeth. 

Mineralization is a process that enables inorganic minerals—in this case, calcium and magnesium—to integrate into the matrix of a tooth’s tissue.

Demineralization and remineralization happen throughout the life of the tooth. Tooth decay causes demineralization. 

Re-mineralization counteracts demineralization. Diets high in calcium-rich foods increase the re-mineralization process’ speed and efficacy.

Studies also show products with sodium fluoride and tri-calcium phosphate can actively remineralize tooth tissue. 

Dental Information, Professional Care 

There’s a lot of dental misinformation out there. Get the answers you need from professional dentists you can trust—like The Dental Team.

At The Dental Team, we know how important it is to arm yourself with knowledge. So, whether you’re asking, “what are teeth made of?” or “how can I keep my teeth healthy?” we’re ready to give you answers.

If you want expert dental help—or just effective information—contact us. We’ll return your call in 24-48 hours. 

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