The outermost layer of our tooth is the enamel and it consists mainly of an inorganic mineral matrix that is 96% by weight. The primary mineral in that matrix is called as hydroxyapatite [Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2], which is a naturally occurring form of calcium apatite.
This inorganic layer that is filled with the mineral hydroxyapatite is what gives the tooth its strength and also protects it from harm. Since it is the outermost layer of the tooth, it becomes subjected to acid attacks from cavity causing bacteria and acidic foods.
Whenever you consume sugar, the bacteria will process it and create an acidic byproduct that attempts to dissolve the enamel. This process of dissolving the enamel is referred to as demineralization.
As the name implies, demineralization is when the enamel layer or hydroxyapatite demineralizes by releasing the individually bound minerals. The structure breaks apart into separate calcium and phosphate ions.
Fortunately, the process can reverse itself via remineralization. As the name implies, you are adding minerals back into your teeth. Your teeth can basically reuse the same minerals to rebuild the enamel and hydroxyapatite layer.
The minerals that can strengthen and repair enamel
Since the enamel is made of hydroxyapatite, in order to repair it you would simply need to rebuild it. This means that the minerals calcium and phosphate are required to repair the enamel via remineralization. However, the tooth can do more than simply repair the enamel because it can also strengthen it as well by adding fluoride to hydroxyapatite.
Minerals for repair and strengthening of the enamel:
- Calcium (Ca)
- Phosphate (HPO4)
- Fluorine (F)
Just to be clear, minerals are basically inorganic substances. In order to qualify as one they must not have any carbons (C) in their molecular structure.
Minerals calcium and phosphate are required for enamel remineralization (repair)
Enamel demineralization is when hydroxyapatite breaks up into individual calcium and phosphate molecules. Enamel remineralization is when your body adds the calcium and phosphate back into the tooth in order to repair the enamel. Thus having a diet rich in both minerals is one of the ways in how you remineralize your teeth.
The demineralization and remineralization process both utilize the same minerals. The former takes minerals away from the tooth while the latter adds it back in. The only difference is that they move in opposite directions of each other.
Both of these minerals are a key ingredient in this process. That means it is important to get enough of it in your diet. Make sure you have a balanced nutritional diet, if you don’t you should try to supplement it. Some people take calcium hydroxyapatite to supplement the calcium and phosphate requirement.
According to Harvard University, calcium is essential for building healthy bones and teeth. This means that it is a necessary ingredient for keeping your teeth and jaw bones structurally sound. In case you needed further persuasion, calcium is literally in the hydroxyapatite formula!
Recommended daily intake:
- Women 19-50 = 1000 mg; Women 51+ = 1200 mg; Pregnant/Lactating = 1,000 mg
- Men 19-70 = 1000 mg; Men 71+ = 1,200 mg
Sources of calcium in foods:
- Dairy – milk, fortified plants milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Fortified juices
- Winter squash
- Canned sardines, salmon with bones
- Leafy greens (collards, mustards, turnip, kale, bok choy, spinach)
According to Harvard University, is a key element to bones, teeth, and also cell membranes. It is an important structural element of your teeth since hydroxyapatite is literally made of it along with calcium.
Recommended daily intake:
- Women 19+ = 700 mg
- Men 19+ = 700 mg
Food sources for phosphorus:
- Dairy – milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Legumes, nuts, and seeds
- Whole wheet breads and cereal
- Vegetables – asparagrus, tomatoes, cauliflower
Mineral fluoride is required to strengthen the enamel
Fluoride is not necessary for the repair of enamel because hydroxyapatite is only made of calcium and phosphates.
However, what fluoride can do is strengthen the enamel by transforming the hydroxyapatite to fluorapatite. This occurs when the fluorine replaces the hydroxyl ion and becomes firmly bound to the structure.
- Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2 [hydroxyapatite] becomes converted to Ca10(PO4)6F2 [fluorapatite].
Benefits of having fluorapatite:
- Increased resistance to acid dissolution.
- Decreases mineral solubility.
- Increased stability of mineral structure.
- Promotes remineralization to reverse cavities.
What is interesting is that according to research, only about 10% of the hydroxyl groups can be replaced by fluorine. Therefore the actual structure is a hydroxyapatite-fluorapatite combination.
In addition to strengthening the enamel, fluoride can also protect it by loosely binding to it by forming a calcium fluoride (CaF2) layer. This layer will also attract phosphates to it. It essentially serves as a reservoir for fluorine as well as calcium and phosphates for remineralization. As an added bonus, high levels of calcium fluoride can reduce teeth sensitivity.
If the tooth is attacked by acid, this calcium fluoride layer will dissolve first and then provide minerals to remineralize the enamel.
According to the CDC, fluoride is a mineral that is naturally released from rocks into the soil, water, and air. Trace amounts of it are also naturally found in foods such as tea leaves. Fluoride has been proven to protect teeth from decay by strengthening and helping to rebuild the enamel.
Recommended daily intake: There isn’t an established nutritional requirement for the intake of fluoride.
Food sources with fluoride:
- Brewed black tea and coffee
- Fluoridated water supply
- Shrimp and blue crabs
Other nutrients that indirectly help keep your teeth healthy
In addition to the minerals that are the building blocks of your enamel, there are also other nutrients that indirectly keep your teeth healthy. There is one mineral and four vitamins which do this.
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin C
The mineral potassium doesn’t directly strengthen your teeth but it does have an influence on your bone mineral density. Studies have found that there was a positive association of potassium intake with the density of your bone.
Improving the bone mineral density is important because your teeth are embedded in your jaw bone. The stronger the surrounding bone is, the more stable your teeth will be. Imagine if you had weak jaw bones, the teeth would be loose and wobbly.
Recommended daily intake:
- Women 19+ = 2,600 mg
- Men 19+ = 3,400 mg
- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots)
- Spinach, broccoli
- Beet greens
- Coconut water
- Dairy – milk, plants milk, yogurt
- Cashews, almonds
Vitamin D is fat soluble vitamin and hormone that our bodies can make. Sufficient intake of it is crucial for keeping our teeth healthy because of its effect on calcium and phosphorus.
Without vitamin D, our bodies wouldn’t be able to absorb calcium nor phosphorus effectively which will have an impact on our teeth. As a reminder, both of those minerals are required to repair the enamel so this vitamin indirectly affects it.
Recommended daily intake of Vitamin D:
- Men and women 19+ = 15 mcg
- Men and women 70+ = 20 mcg
Food sources of vitamin D:
- Dairy and various plants milk
- Fishes – sardines, swordfish, salmon, tuna
- Cod liver oil and beef liver
- Egg yolk
Vitamin K is yet another fat soluble vitamin, which is crucial for building healthy bone tissue. Despite not being a mineral, Vitamin K is involved in the production of the bone protein called osteocalcin.
Osteocalcin may not be needed for our teeth but it is certainly needed for our jaw bone which our teeth sit in. If the surrounding jaw bone is weak, the teeth structural stability of the teeth may be compromised.
Recommended daily intake of Vitamin K: There isn’t enough evidence to establish a daily intake for this vitamin so there currently isn’t one.
- Green leafy vegetables – kale, spinach, and collard greens
- Soybean and canola oil
- Fermented soybeans like the Japanese Natto
- Meat, cheese, and eggs
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, which is not a mineral but it can indirectly help keep your teeth and jaw bones healthy. Scurvy is an oral condition that is the result of vitamin C deficiency that can affect your gums and the surrounding jaw bone.
It can cause your gums to swell up into a purplish discoloration. It will bleed easily and is definitely not healthy for your mouth to be experiencing this constant gum inflammation.
Recommended daily intake:
- Women 19+= 75 mg
- Men 19+ = 90 mg
- Smoking can deplete vitamin C so it is recommended that smokers take an additional 35 mg
Sources of Vitamin C:
- Citrus fruits – kiwi, lemons, oranges, grapefruits
- Bell peppers and tomatoes
- Cruciferous vegetables – brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin which is important in remodeling bone. This means that this non-mineral does not affect teeth directly but it does affect the jaw bone that it resides in.
However according to Harvard University, taking an excessive amount of Vitamin A can lead to increased risk of hip fractures. The opposite is also true in that if you don’t get enough the vitamin, your risk for bone fractures increases as well. It turns out moderation is the best practice when it comes to this water soluble vitamin.
Recommended daily intake, not more than or less than for best effect:
- 600-900 mcg for men and women
Sources of Vitamin A:
- Orange and yellow vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
- Leafy greens – spinach, kale, broccoli
- Eggs and milk
- Cantaloupe and mango
Our teeth and jaw bones require a variety of minerals and vitamins to keep them healthy and sound. Not getting sufficient amounts of them in your diet can be hazardous.
- There are two minerals, calcium and phosphate which directly repair the enamel.
- Fluorine is the only mineral which can strengthen your teeth.
- Potassium is the only mineral that can indirectly strengthen your teeth.
- Vitamins A, C, D, and K are non-minerals but they indirectly affect your teeth and jaw bone health.
Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients that you need. If you’re unsure you should go in for your physical and get your blood tests done. Your primary care doctor will let you know if you’re deficient in essential nutrients.