Everybody wants to be able and willing to smile. However, certain dental conditions make something that seems very simple into some so difficult for others. Enamel dysplasia is one of those conditions. 

What is enamel dysplasia?

Your teeth are covered by enamel – a hard substance that forms a thin layer partly covering the teeth. Enamel is one of the hardest substances in the body and its primary function is to protect the teeth against decay.

Tooth enamel also protects the inner parts of your teeth. Without enamel, teeth have the potential to deteriorate and decay, resulting in tooth loss, discomfort, and potential infections and gum disease.

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Dysplasia is medical term defining abnormal growth or development of cells or organ structures; in other words, an abnormality. Abnormal growth of (or lack of) tooth enamel is a condition often known as dental dysplasia or dental hypoplasia, meaning incomplete or under-development of the cellular structure and ultimate formation of enamel.

Therefore, enamel dysplasia defines a condition of improper development of tooth enamel. Enamel dysplasia can occur on one tooth, several teeth, or affect all of them. A person with enamel dysplasia has teeth that might feel and look rough on the surface. They look different too, and display a chalky appearance and an inconsistent tooth surface. The condition can also cause darkening of parts of the teeth.

What causes enamel dysplasia?

Enamel dysplasia is caused by a number of factors that include but are not limited to:

  • Some type of early trauma or damage to primary teeth as they are forming 
  • Heredity
  • Illnesses such as infections and high fever
  • Exposure to drugs or toxins
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Enamel dysplasia affects all age groups, but seeking proper dental care when anomalies in appearance or function can provide prompt diagnosis and approaches to treatment.

Signs & Symptoms

Enamel dysplasia doesn’t happen overnight. You may notice some irregularities or symptoms as the condition progresses. For example:

  • Does the enamel on one or more teeth appear thinner than it should be? How can you tell? The enamel will appear almost translucent, as if you’re looking through a layer of ice. Children and young adults with weaker enamel are more apt to experience enamel dysplasia.
  • Chewing surfaces of your teeth, most especially the molars, often form with grooves and shallow pits to facilitate chewing and grinding functions. However, with enamel dysplasia, those pits appear deeper than normal, due to thinner tooth enamel. Gradually, bacteria and plaque can build up in these grooves and release acidic components that further damage the enamel.
  • Are your teeth sensitive to hot or cold foods and beverages? While such symptoms are present in other tooth and gum conditions, they are also present in enamel dysplasia.
  • Do you notice the presence of or increased presence of discoloration? This discoloration often takes on the color of coffee, but defines more than mere staining of the teeth. Any brownish areas (which can often take on yellowish or even variations of white tones) are an indication of tooth damage caused by thin enamel.

Enamel dysplasia weakens teeth, so they chip or crack easily. When left untreated, dental dysplasia increases the risk of cavities, which in turn contribute to decay. Decaying teeth expose nerve endings, increasing pain and discomfort. Tooth decay also increases the potential for bacterial growth and risk for infections that eventually spread to other teeth and your gum line.

Severe cases of enamel dysplasia also intensify the likelihood of tooth breakage or loss, as well as the development of gingivitis and/or gum disease (periodontitis). This condition – left untreated – eventually results in looser teeth and/or potential tooth loss.

In severe cases, decay damages tooth nerves and tissues inside the tooth. Decay leads to infection which descends into the roots and damages not only the gums, but over time can lead to loss of jawbone structure and strength.

Treatments for enamel dysplasia

Treatments for enamel dysplasia are based around the individual. Every case is treated differently dependent on age, eating habits, and expected cause of the condition, such as nutritional deficiencies or hereditary factors.

The first approach to treatment is focus on oral and dental health habits that include adequate brushing, flossing, and scheduling regular visits with your dentist. A number of cosmetic treatments are available to improve the appearance of your visible teeth that include micro-abrasion and whitening procedures.

For more serious cases, bonding with naturally colored dental materials is an option for smaller areas of rough, uneven, or discolored teeth. A dentist may also recommend application of sealants, fillings, or crowns to protect from further decay and to enhance appearance. For very severe cases, veneers may be recommended.

Proper dental care essential for health

Your teeth have a huge influence on overall health and wellness and go way beyond mere appearance. If you notice anomalies or changes in your teeth, their appearance, function, or comfort levels, schedule a visit with your dentist sooner rather than later.

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