Unveiling the Secrets of Your Smile: What Exactly are Teeth Made Of?

Published February 15, 2024

Ever wondered what your pearly whites are made of? It’s not just bone, as you might think. Our teeth are complex structures, each designed with a specific purpose in mind.

The main substances that make up our teeth are enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. Each of these plays a vital role in the health and function of our teeth. Let’s delve deeper into the composition of our teeth and understand what keeps our smiles bright and healthy.

Understanding the composition of our teeth can help us take better care of them. So, let’s get started on this fascinating journey into the world of teeth.

Enamel: The Outer Armor

When taking a closer look at what teeth are made of, the enamel is my starting point. This dazzling white, ultra-hard substance forms a protective shell around the more sensitive inner parts of the tooth. In fact, the enamel is the hardest substance in the human body, even harder than bone.

The strength of enamel largely stems from its mineral content, especially hydroxyapatite (a form of calcium phosphate). Aren’t you amazed to discover that this rock-like mineral comprises more than 95% of the enamel’s composition?

Yet we know that enamel isn’t invincible. It succumbs to the damaging effects of acid. Acid is the tough villain in our oral health story, produced by bacteria when they feast on sugars in our food. And here’s a shocker: once enamel is lost, it can’t regrow. Our bodies simply can’t produce new enamel after our teeth have fully developed.

Let’s take a sidestep into daily dental care, which plays a critical role in defending our enamel.

  • Good oral hygiene is a must.
  • Brushing our teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste can strengthen the enamel.
  • Limiting the intake of sugary and acidic foods is necessary.
  • Regular dental checkups are vital to catch potential issues before they escalate.

Dentin: The Strong Core

Just under the outer shell of enamel lies dentin, a robust layer that forms the bulk of each tooth. Unlike enamel, which is essentially an inorganic substance, dentin is living tissue. It’s made up, for the most part, of a mineral composite that includes calcium phosphate, but it also contains organic materials and water.

Dentin is yellowish compared to the opaque white enamel. It’s not unusual to notice your teeth getting yellower as you age. That’s because the enamel wears thin over time and more of the dentin shows through. This layer provides the fundamental structure to your teeth and plays a significant role in the feeling of tooth sensitivity. Since it contains tiny tubules directly connected to the tooth’s nerve center, when exposed, that’s when you get that jolt of pain from hot or cold temperatures.

Protecting the dentin is as vital as safeguarding the enamel. It’s susceptible to decay if the enamel wears out and allows bacteria to reach it. Once bacteria break through the enamel, they can reach the dentin easily and move rapidly because of its softer structure. So, all those good oral hygiene habits – brushing with fluoride toothpaste, flossing regularly, keeping sugary and acidic foods to a minimum, and making regular dental visits – are just as important for preserving dentin as they are for enamel.

You might wonder exactly how much dentin contributes to the overall mass of a tooth. Let’s break it down:

Component Percentage of Total Tooth Mass
Enamel 1-2%
Dentin 70-75%
Cementum 9-15%
Pulp 10-15%

Cementum: Anchoring Teeth in Place

As we delve further into the composition of our teeth, we encounter another essential component – the cementum. This often underappreciated tissue forms a thin layer that covers the root of the tooth.

Unlike the white enamel and yellowish dentin, cementum is a light yellowish tissue close in color to bone. But it’s not just another layer. In fact, it plays a pivotal role in anchoring our teeth securely in place.

It’s the cementum that attaches our teeth to the periodontal ligaments. These ligaments in turn are anchored to the alveolar bone in our jaw. It’s thanks to this interlocking system that we can chomp, crunch, gnaw and nibble our way through everything that life dishes up.

Cementum isn’t as hard as enamel but it’s tougher than dentin. It’s composed primarily of hydroxyapatite, but also contains collagen and non-collagenous proteins. In many ways, it’s similar to bone structure. However, unlike bone, it doesn’t contain blood vessels or nerves. Therefore, despite being vital, the cementum doesn’t have regenerative properties like bone.

A key aspect is that cementum continues to be produced throughout our lives, unlike enamel. This ability is significant especially in compensating for the wear and tear endured by our teeth over time.

As with enamel and dentin, cementum is also at risk from the damage inflicted by poor oral care. Plaque build-up can lead to gum disease, which in severe cases, exposes and erodes the cementum layer. Here again, maintaining good oral hygiene habits is crucial to avoid detrimental effects.

Interestingly, cementum makes up a little over 10% of the tooth structure. The table below summarises the percentage contribution of each tooth component.

Tooth Component Percentage (%)
Enamel 15
Dentin 70-75
Cementum 10-15
Pulp <1

Pulp: The Heart of the Tooth

Let’s now dive into the innermost layer of our teeth: the pulp. Commonly referred to as the heart of the tooth, the pulp is a web of blood vessels and nerves. It’s here that the vital life-supplying functions for our teeth take place.

Home to the elements that make up blood vessels and nerves, the pulp plays a pivotal role in a tooth’s vitality. It’s the pulp that keeps a tooth “alive”, enabling it to sense temperature, pain, and pressure. When we talk about lively, healthy teeth, it’s fundamentally because of the work completed by the pulp.

The pulp is predominantly made up of:

  • Cells: Primarily vice-like odontoblasts, responsible for the formation of dentin
  • Nerves: Sensory nerves that detect pressure and temperature changes
  • Blood vessels: Supply oxygen and nutrients to the tooth

Interestingly, the pulp also responds to bacterial threats. When such risks are detected and bacteria penetrates the dentin, the pulp will spring into action. Producing more dentin to safeguard the innermost part of the tooth it strives to prevent further bacterial penetration. Yet, when a severe or prolonged threat appears, such as deep cavities or a cracked tooth, the pulp can get inflamed, leading to tooth pain. In severe cases, root canal treatment may be warranted.

To maintain a healthy pulp and thereby healthy teeth, keeping up with good oral hygiene habits is non-negotiable. Preventive dentistry, regular dental check-ups, and professional cleanings are integral aspects of oral health maintenance. After all, proactivity can save your teeth from much distress and unnecessary damage.

Given the essential roles of the enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp, understanding tooth composition ensures that we’re equipped to take better care of our teeth. The structure is there to protect as well as to serve a practical function.


It’s clear that our teeth are more than just tools for chewing. They’re complex structures composed of enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. Each component has a unique role and requires specific care to maintain its function and structure. The outer layers, including the cementum, are continuously produced to compensate for daily wear and tear. However, they’re also susceptible to damage from poor oral care. On the other hand, our tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp, is the life source of our teeth. It reacts to threats, safeguards our teeth, and can even cause tooth pain if severely threatened. Proper oral hygiene habits and regular dental check-ups are essential to keep all parts of our teeth healthy. With a clear understanding of what our teeth are made of, we’re better equipped to protect and care for them.

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