Let me start by saying that – for some of you – this post may seem a bit silly. However, I get questions in my office about enamel , the white coating of our teeth that the outer layer is made of. Some people confuse the definition “enamel.” Is this enamel the same as that enamel? What is enamel, and how can you keep the different types straight?
Tooth enamel is the hardest and most highly mineralized material in a mammal’s body. 92- 96% of enamel consists of minerals (hydroxyapatite, a phosphate and calcium salt) with the remaining part being water and organic material. Enamel makes up the shiny hard outer layer of a tooth for protecting dentin and pulp , while at the same time carrying out the function of chewing and grinding our food. When you brush your teeth in the morning and at night (and after every meal – hint hint!), you are in fact brushing enamel. The normal color of enamel varies from light yellow to grayish white. At the edges of teeth where there is no dentin underlying the enamel, the color sometimes has a slightly blue tone. Since enamel is semitranslucent, the color of dentin and any restorative dental material underneath the enamel strongly affects the appearance of a tooth.
One day I was asked “why can’t we use bathtub enamel to fix tooth decay, since it is a cavity on the enamel?” Well, in an effort to permeate some inquiring minds, here are a few other types of enamel – which should never be confused with tooth enamel! Vitreous enamel is the colorful result of fusing powdered glass to a decorative object (usually metal, glass or ceramic tile) by firing, usually between 750 and 850 degrees Celsius. The powder melts and hardens to a smooth, durable vitreous coating used in aesthetic applications, such as decorative work. This technique of applying enamel to add color or texture was originally mastered by the ancient Egyptians! Enamel paint is a type of liquid paint that gives a brilliant glossy shine when cured, and is especially useful in attention-grabbing mediums (such as street signs, door painting and road markers). The term “enamel paint” can also mean an object that is covered in an oil-base paint, but recently has come to include latex-and-water based paints.
Yes, it’s true that there are several different uses of the word “enamel,” but don’t confuse the brilliant white enamel of your teeth with enamel paint or decorative enamel!