When someone complements you on your “beautiful teeth,” they’re commenting on the part they can see — the hard, porcelain-like substance called enamel. Enamel covers the portion of the tooth that sits above the gum line, providing the jagged edges that make for viable chewing surfaces while also protecting the softer inner parts of the tooth from harm. While tooth enamel appears solid to the casual observer, it’s actually honeycombed with lots of tiny pores. These pores are a natural result of the way calcium and phosphorus come together to form a crystalline structure. The porous enamel can also trap coloring agents from food and drinks — a leading reason that teeth become discolored and might require whitening.
If the enamel protects your tooth, what lies beneath it? This next layer, which actually comprises most of the tooth’s volume, is known as dentin. Dentin is kind of yellowish in color and bears a passing resemblance to bone, but it’s not as hard as the enamel that covers it. Besides giving the tooth its primary shape, the dentin acts as a kind of early warning system when trouble strikes, because it contains nerve endings that react when disease, injury or decay breach the protective enamel layer. While no one enjoys dental pain, this variety at least compels you to pick up the phone and make that dental appointment before the symptoms get worse!
The dentin protects the final and most sensitive layer of the tooth, the pulp. This central substance, which extends all the way down into the roots, is made up of nerve tissue and fed by blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. It serves as the blood supply for the tooth; if the pulp dies or is removed, as in the case of a root canal procedure, the tooth may remain securely in place but it’s no longer actually alive. The pulp’s nerve tissue relays signals to and from the brain — including, of course, pain. Infection, decay, or other types of damage to the pulp will definitely make you sit up and take notice!
As you can see, each layer of your teeth performs a different purpose, but with a common goal: to keep your teeth alive, well, and strong. Modern dentistry supports that goal by keeping the enamel clean and free of decay while treating problems that threaten the dentin or pulp. Proper care can keep all three layers of your teeth doing their jobs properly for many years to come!