At its thickest, the average person’s tooth enamel is a mere half-millimeter wider than a Susan B. Anthony dollar. Yet, despite its thinness, its dense mineral composition makes it the hardest surface in the human body. And, your teeth need that sort of protection given the abuse they take throughout a lifetime. Sometimes, though, this incredible protective barrier doesn’t develop fully in some children, leading to enamel vulnerable to decay and stress fractures from chewing. We want to help you understand what causes weak enamel, and how to treat it.
Here are a few questions you may have about this condition, formally known as hypoplasia, or hypo-mineralization.
What Is the Purpose of Enamel?
If you think of tooth enamel as if it were paint primer, you would understand its purpose, and what happens when there are weak spots in its surface. When a painter applies primer to a surface, the goal is to prepare that surface for the outer facing coating of paint, while serving as a barrier of protection against wear and tear and environmental erosion like rust, mold and mildew. On wood, these priming precautions help prevent warping and dry rot as well. Can you see the parallel? It’s not too far of a stretch, then, to see how weakened enamel can set a tooth up for a rough ride through life. Like paint primer, the enamel on our teeth is essential. And, when nature misses a spot, decay is just around the corner.
What Causes Weak Enamel?
Weak enamel typically arises out of complications while a child is in utero, but can also arise due to poor diet through age five, premature birth, and even the dental hygiene habits of the mother while pregnant. Here are a few other causes:
Certain medications taken by a mother while pregnant, or by a child during the first few years of life
Early childhood diseases such as pneumonia, high fever or infections
Poor childhood nutrition that lacks in enamel-building vitamins and minerals
What Are The Effects of Hypoplasia?
Since a tooth with weakened enamel is essentially more porous, the main effect of this condition is decay. Teeth are also typically sensitive to hot and cold temperature. Depending on the severity of one’s case, decay exhibits itself as the tiniest spot on a tooth, or a larger, much more noticeable portion. More pronounced cases can result in teeth that are more fragile, making them prone to fracture or breakage. Teeth with weak enamel are often also discolored, in a color range that mimics fluorosis.
Is There a Way to Prevent Against Weak Enamel?
Excluding complications at birth or during pregnancy, there are a few things you can do to protect your children from acquiring this condition. First, be sure you’re eating well when pregnant, and your child is eating well after birth. Consult with both your dentist and your GP for the best advice in this area. The two make a great team, so don’t leave your dentist out of these discussions! Also, since tooth trauma can play a part in localized enamel issues, protect your child’s teeth as best as possible as they’re growing.
If My Child Has Weak Enamel, How Can I treat it?
Treatment options for hypo-mineralization depend entirely on the degree of weakness of each tooth in the mouth of each child. That said, from least corrective to most corrective, your child may need to pursue regular fluoride treatments, sealants, bonding, stainless steel crowns, or extraction (if the tooth is overly compromised). With regular attention to good oral hygiene, however, and an informed partnership with your dentist, you can manage the condition.
Lastly, if your child has weak enamel and is still young, be sure to consult with your dentist to see what you can do to prevent this condition from affecting the arrival of your child’s permanent teeth. While atypical, the condition can be seen in permanent teeth as well, so please plan ahead, and ask a lot of questions!