Tooth Anatomy (and how to prevent toothaches!)
The Anatomy of a Tooth
Today’s blog post will provide a very basic understanding of the anatomy of your teeth. By understanding how delicate your teeth are, we will be able to illustrate how important early detection and preventive care is to your oral health. Let’s take a look at the picture below and discuss some key terminology:
Enamel: We have all heard of enamel. Did you know it’s the hardest substance in your body? Enamel gives our teeth their pearly white appearance and is the first line of defense against tooth decay (caries). Enamel also acts as a thermal insulator for the nerve within the tooth. When people are interested in whitening their teeth, they are improving upon the appearance of their enamel.
Dentin: This portion of the tooth is much lesser known than its outer covering of enamel. Dentin comprises the inner surface of the tooth and is the last bit of tooth structure to protect the dental pulp. Dentin is yellowish in appearance and can be readily seen when patients have lost their enamel. Oftentimes, when patients notice their teeth yellowing it is actually that they have lost the enamel from their teeth. This situation cannot be improved upon with whitening. In fact, whitening may lead to excessive tooth sensitivity and irreversible nerve damage.
Note how the teeth depicted in the picture above have lost their enamel on the palatal surface (the part of the upper teeth facing the roof of the mouth). This condition was due to recurrent exposure to stomach acids. This is often seen in patients with gastric acid reflux or patients suffering from bulimia. Please note that any repetitive exposure to acid can cause this- I have actually had several patients who have lost enamel due to chewing on lemons!
Pulp: The dental pulp is the soft tissue of the tooth that is composed of the tooth’s nerve as well as its arteries, veins, and capillaries. When tooth decay (caries), breaches the protective enamel and dentin the tooth’s pulp becomes infected. Patient’s often describe this situation as “the worst pain they’ve ever experienced.” Treatment options for this situation include extracting (pulling) the tooth or everybody’s favorite two words: Root Canal.
Note how the pulp is in the center of the tooth, but also travels the extent of the root to join the other blood vessels at the apex of the tooth (the bottom of the tooth). When the dental pulp becomes infected by tooth decay, the bacteria then travel down the pulp and begin to form a dental abscess at the root. This abscess causes excruciating pain, as well as dissolving the bone around the roots. Once in the bone, this infection can then easily travel to other parts of the body. We treat at least one patient a day that is in this condition. Don’t let this happen to you by maintaining your regular preventive care!
Bone: The alveolar bone supporting your teeth is crucial in preserving your smile! The importance of maintaining excellent bone health is so important we will discuss this in depth in future blog posts concerning Periodontal Disease. The main message here is: losing bone will lead to losing teeth.
Periodontal Ligament: The periodontal ligament is the soft tissue that connects your tooth to the supporting bone. It also absorbs the force of chewing (think about it like shocks on your car).
We will reference this blog post as we tackle more complicated subjects in dentistry and your oral health. If you have any questions regarding your oral health, please call our office at 503-6593003. Thanks for reading!
About Dr. Inna Shimanovsky and Aadvanced Dental: Dr. Inna Shimanovsky and Aadvanced Dental is a 100% mercury-free general dental practice in Oregon City, OR specializing in advanced cosmetic/reconstructive dentistry and extensive dental care services using the latest science and technology in a caring and pain free environment.