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Tooth enamel defects: the good, the bad and the ugly

Enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth. It is the hardest substance in the human body – harder than bone. As enamel forms, it can be very sensitive to any disturbances or disorders during pregnancy or infancy. Enamel defects can form during the early stages of tooth development, affecting the baby teeth or adult teeth.

Baby teeth can develop enamel defects from problems during the third month of pregnancy. For adult teeth, enamel defects can come about from factors occurring at or soon after birth. If you are thinking about getting pregnant of already are pregnant, I recommend you see a dentist. If you need a family dentist to discuss common pregnancy oral health problems or a child-friendly team to check your kids’ teeth, then give my team a call at Riverstone Family Dental on 8678 3538.

The good

Wait… so there’s some good news about tooth enamel defects?

Hear me out.

Up until a few decades ago, we knew very little about enamel defects. Research in this field is growing, led by the D3 group of which I am a proud member and supporter. This group aims to create research and awareness in the field of tooth enamel defects or “chalky” teeth. Furthermore, as we gain knowledge in this field we will be able to treat these teeth more effectively and hopefully one day prevent them.

Here is how we classify tooth enamel defects:

  • Enamel hypoplasia: this describes defects on the surfaces of enamel. For example, these may look like pits, lines or chipping of the tooth.
  • Enamel opacities: dense white or yellow patches on the enamel.
  • Molar-incisor hypomineralisation (also known as MIH, molar hypomin or chalky teeth). I am seeing this type of enamel defect more and more. The surfaces of these teeth are usually soft, discoloured, has an irregular surface and feels bumpy. The cause of MIH is still being investigated by researchers. However, there may be a link to fevers, infections or antibiotics during pregnancy or infancy.
  • Amelogenesis imperfecta: this is an inherited condition where every baby and adult tooth has defects in its enamel. It is important that this condition is diagnosed as early as possible so treatment can start as soon as possible.

The bad

Some risks that have been linked to developing enamel defects are pretty hard to avoid. This makes for some bad news. Let’s go through some risk factors found through the latest research.

Some risk factors:

  • Your mother’s health during pregnancy can increase your risk of developing enamel defects. For example, if she is not getting enough vitamins and minerals or is suffering from different illnesses, this may affect whether your teeth successfully form.
  • Premature babies are four times more likely to develop enamel defects compared to full term babies.
  • Problems with or at birth can affect enamel development. This is especially the case for any breathing problems such as severe asthma or blood disorders such as septicaemia.
  • Certain medications taken by the mother during pregnancy or to the baby after birth.
  • Illnesses during a child’s first four years of life. These usually create high fevers. Examples include: pneumonia, middle-ear infections, measles or chicken pox.
  • Poor nutrition during the first four years of life. Calcium, phosphate and vitamins A, C and D are some of the essential nutrients for healthy tooth development.
  • Trauma to the teeth is very common and can occur when a child falls or bumps into something. Enamel defects of the teeth can result when a tooth is traumatised and can affect baby and adult teeth.

The ugly

Ugly things can happen to teeth with enamel defects. The teeth not only look different, but their properties are also weaker than the average tooth. At Riverstone Family Dental I diagnose these teeth as early as possible so as to manage them in their early stages and therefore increase the longevity of the teeth.

Problems with enamel defects:

  • Teeth become fragile and wear down rapidly.
  • Without the hard protection of healthy enamel, the risk of tooth decay and abscesses in the mouth dramatically increases.  Cavity-causing bacteria are able to erode the enamel and also cause infections in the gums.
  • Major tooth sensitivity is very common. Hot or cold foods and drinks can cause pain. This is because the enamel is more porous, therefore exposing nerve endings to the environment in the mouth.
  • It can also affect self-esteem and the affected person may feel embarrassed or ashamed to smile or eat in public.

I hope you have found this blog helpful and discovered more about enamel defects. Since enamel defects can form during the early stages of tooth development, it is important to look after yourself during pregnancy. If you need a family dentist to discuss common pregnancy oral health problems or a child-friendly team to check your kids’ teeth, then give my team a call at Riverstone Family Dental on 8678 3538.

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