Tooth Enamel

Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in your body — even stronger than your bones. It protects the innermost layers of your tooth (dentin and pulp) from damage. Even though enamel is strong, bacteria, plaque and acids in your mouth can damage it.

Overview

Tooth diagram showing parts of crown, neck and root: enamel, dentin, pulp, cementum, nerves, blood vessels, gingiva, bone.
Enamel protects your the crown of your tooth from cavities and everyday wear and tear. It's the strongest substance in your body.

What is enamel?

Your enamel is the protective, outer covering of your tooth. It shields your tooth crown (the part you can see above your gums) from cavities and damage.

Tooth enamel is incredibly durable. In fact, it’s the hardest substance in your body — even harder than your bones.

Even though enamel is strong, it can break down over time. Dental plaque, acids from the foods you eat and bacteria in your mouth can all contribute to enamel damage.

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Function

What is the main function of enamel?

Enamel protects your tooth from damage. Specifically, it protects the innermost layers of your tooth — the dentin and tooth pulp — from:

Anatomy

What’s enamel made of?

Tooth enamel mostly consists of calcium and phosphorus. These minerals, which make up 95% of your enamel, bond together to form ultra-strong crystallites (small crystals).

The rest of your enamel consists of water (4%) and proteins (1%).

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What does enamel look like?

Enamel is semi-translucent. Dentin (the layer underneath) can vary in color, from grayish-white to light yellow and everything in between. Together, enamel and dentin give your teeth their unique shade.

Conditions and Disorders

What causes loss of enamel on teeth?

Several factors can contribute to tooth enamel loss, including:

What happens if enamel is gone?

Tooth enamel erosion exposes the inner layers of your teeth to open air and the foods and drinks you consume. This makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities. In addition, tooth enamel loss can make your teeth more sensitive to heat, cold and sweets. They may also stain more easily.

Dentists can repair small cavities. But left untreated, even tiny cavities can grow into much larger ones, eventually leading to infections and painful tooth abscesses.

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Does tooth enamel grow back?

No, if your enamel is completely gone, you can’t bring it back. But your dentist can place a dental crown over your tooth to protect it from further damage.

Can you restore enamel on teeth?

While you can’t regrow enamel that’s gone, dentists can restore damaged tooth enamel with fluoride treatments. Fluoride remineralizes and strengthens the outer layers of your teeth.

Fluoride treatments

Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in many foods and water. It comes in pill form or topical (a dentist puts it directly on your teeth). Dentists use fluoride to restore tooth enamel naturally, making your teeth less susceptible to cavities and other damage.

Care

How can I take care of my tooth enamel?

Prevention is the best way to ensure your enamel stays strong and healthy. Here are some tips to help keep your oral hygiene in check:

  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day. This removes plaque, tartar and bacteria from your teeth surfaces and reduces your risk for enamel loss. If you’re unsure about how to brush correctly, ask your dentist to demonstrate proper brushing techniques.
  • Floss once a day. Plaque, debris and bacteria like to hide in nooks and crannies — especially the ones between your teeth. Flossing between your teeth is just as important as brushing.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste. There are many types of toothpaste on the market. Choose one that contains fluoride. This will help strengthen and remineralize your enamel on a daily basis. When shopping for toothpaste, be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This ensures that dental experts have rigorously tested and approved the product for safety and effectiveness.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. You should avoid medium- and hard-bristled brushes. These are too abrasive and can actually scrub your enamel off. Use a gentle hand, as well. Brushing too hard, even with a soft brush, can still damage your enamel.
  • Drink acidic beverages through a straw. Drinking sodas and other acidic drinks through a straw helps minimize contact with your teeth surfaces.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water throughout the day helps wash away plaque, bacteria and food particles. Proper hydration can also help reduce the risk of enamel loss in people with dry mouth.
  • Get treatment for underlying conditions. This includes dry mouth, GERD and bulimia nervosa.
  • If you grind your teeth when you sleep, wear a mouth guard. You can buy over-the-counter (OTC) mouth guards at most pharmacies and department stores. A dentist can also make you a custom guard that fits snugly over your teeth.
  • Chew sugar-free gum. This helps increase saliva production, which helps keep your enamel healthy. Be sure to look for gum that contains xylitol. This natural sugar alcohol may help prevent cavities.
  • Ask your dentist about sealants. Dental sealants are a thin plastic-like coating painted onto the chewing surfaces of your teeth. Like tiny raincoats, they shield your teeth, protecting them from plaque, tartar and harmful bacteria.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. To keep your teeth and gums healthy, see a dentist for regular cleanings and exams.

Additional Common Questions

Does teeth whitening damage enamel?

When used properly, teeth whitening doesn’t damage your enamel. However, some whitening products can dehydrate your teeth. If you’re interested in teeth whitening, talk to a dentist about safe product recommendations.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Enamel is the hardest substance in your body. It protects your teeth from cavities and everyday wear and tear. Although tooth enamel is durable, it’s not indestructible. To keep it healthy, visit your dentist regularly and practice good oral hygiene. Your dentist can also recommend fluoride products and tell you how to strengthen tooth enamel at home.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/06/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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