The Beautiful Minerals in Your Tooth Enamel

Young dental patient, and the importance of minerals in your tooth enamel

Hydroxylapatite. Say it three times, fast! 

Hydroxylapatite is a compound, or mixture, of minerals that make up your tooth enamel. These are calcium, phosphate, and hydroxide

Although teeth are part of a human (or animal) body, these minerals are also found in other places throughout nature and are studied in geology and chemistry!  So, let's have fun learning some fascinating facts (and seeing interesting photos) about these important minerals.

Calcium

Calcium in nature

This is calcium in nature. It looks like water that has flowed over the rocks and frozen, but it's actually calcium deposits from the minerals in the water that have held together to make these formations!

Calcium in coral
This is also calcium in nature! Calcium is vital in the construction of coral, making these beautiful formations. It is the eighth most plentiful element in the ocean.

Some interesting facts about calcium:

  • Found on Earth in the form of rocks
  • The fifth most natural element in the crust of the Earth
  • The fifth most common element in the human body 
  • Makes bones and teeth hard
  • Calcium is an integral part of the compound mineral in your enamel – hydroxylapatite. 

Some of the best sources of calcium for the human body:

  • Dairy products (Milk,  Cheeses, Yogurt)
  • Leafy greens (Kale, Bok choy, Broccoli, Turnip greens)
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Oranges

Phosphate (Phosphorus)

Phosphate Mine

This is an old Phosphate Mine!

The pure elemental form of phosphorus is not found on Earth in its free state. Phosphorus is unstable, which means it cannot exist in its natural form and must bind to other elements. Its primary forms are white phosphorus and red phosphorus. Phosphate (found in teeth) is a combination of one phosphorus atom bound to four oxygen atoms.

Here are some fascinating facts about phosphorus and phosphate:

Phosphate in a match

  • Red phosphorus is used to make safety matches. This form ignites when it is struck on the gritty paper as adults light a match.
  • Phosphate is the sixth most ample element in the human body.
  • Mining and heating calcium phosphate produces commercial phosphorus. Most of the mining happens in Florida and North Carolina.
  • White phosphorus will ignite when it is exposed to the air. Humans cannot touch white phosphorus or it will burn their skin.
  • Phosphorus in the red form is used in the manufacturing of fertilizers. It’s a key component in the growth of plant life. It helps form strong roots and blooms.
  • Phosphate is a main ingredient in our bones and is essential in the compound making hydroxylapatite, the mineral found in your tooth enamel. 
  • Phosphate is a key part of our DNA molecules.

Phosphate in DNA

Some of the best sources of phosphate for the human body are found in milk, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, and beans. Did you notice that many of these are also listed as excellent sources of calcium?

Hydroxide

Phosphate (Phosphorus)

Some of the best sources of phosphate for the human body are found in milk, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, and beans. Did you notice that many of these are also listed as excellent sources of calcium?

chemistry

Hydroxide is used in many ways:

  • To prevent kidney stones
  • Produce fuel cells
  • Make disinfectants
  • Food preservatives – prevents the growth of bacteria and mold in food
  • Paper recycling process
  • Smelting (heating beyond its melting point) of aluminum

Hydroxide is the third of the main minerals in hydroxylapatite in the enamel of the teeth.

Minerals in Our Teeth

Calcium, phosphate, and hydroxide are the three elements that make up the hydroxylapatite in your tooth enamel, and hydroxylapatite makes up about 95% of the enamel. The minerals bind together and form small crystal-like substances. These crystallites are super strong! The other 5% of the enamel consists of water and proteins. 

Just like the skeleton protects parts of the human body (the skull protects the brain and ribs protect your heart and lungs), enamel protects our teeth. Your tooth enamel is the strongest part of your body, even more dense and harder than your bones. The minerals in the enamel are what give your teeth this protection. The enamel protects the dentin and pulp, the innermost layers of your teeth, from damage.

The enamel covering the teeth is different from bone. It is not alive and growing and cannot be repaired strictly by the body. But, you can make your existing enamel harder and more resistant to erosion, and it can even absorb minerals after some have been lost. This is called remineralization.

One of the most important things you can do to prevent erosion of your tooth enamel is to keep acidic substances, bacteria, and plaque out of your mouth.

The good news is that some foods you eat can protect your teeth! Any of the food sources of the minerals mentioned above can help strengthen the minerals in the teeth, as those foods provide one, two, or all three minerals.

A dog's teeth are prone to decay, as they easily form plaque. Just like with humans, a high-carb diet can cause cavities to form over time. Bacteria and other germs can build up and cause disease. Did you know that dogs need to have their teeth brushed every day - and they have special toothbrushes and toothpaste to protect their teeth?! They also benefit from a dental exam and cleaning at least once a year. If cavities get too far advanced, the vet may need to remove diseased teeth for your dog to comfortably eat and chew like they did before.

Minerals are in healthy foods
In addition to eating healthy foods, brushing twice daily with toothpaste, flossing at least once daily, and keeping your dental checkups and cleanings will help prevent the buildup of plaque and harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of your child’s teeth losing enamel. If you have any questions about protecting enamel, we are always happy to have a conversation about it! We love helping you and your family keep your healthiest smiles!

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