What are Teeth Made of?
Teeth are made up of four different types of tissue, both hard and soft. These layers of tissue perform specific functions and are essential to keeping your teeth healthy and strong.
Enamel, dentin, and cementum are hard tissues, whereas pulp is the softer portion of the tooth.
The hard, white outer layer of a tooth is called enamel. It surrounds the crown and varies in thickness across the tooth.
Enamel protects the interior of the tooth. Consisting of around 95% apatite minerals, enamel is the hardest substance in the human body.1
If not taken care of properly, enamel can decay. It cannot regenerate on its own. Dentists often recommend using fluoride-based toothpaste to keep enamel healthy and intact.
A living tissue called dentin forms the bulk of the tooth’s structure underneath the enamel. It consists of small structures known as dentinal tubules.
At about 55% mineral, dentin is softer than enamel and has some elasticity.2 It can also sense hot and cold temperatures when you eat and drink.
Cementum is a bone-like structure surrounding the tooth’s root, but it is technically not a bone. It connects the body of the tooth to its root.
Composed of 50 to 55% organic material, cementum is softer than dentin and enamel.3 This organic material consists primarily of collagen that helps attach the tooth to the surrounding bone.
The interior part of the tooth is called the pulp. It’s the softest material in the tooth and contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.
What Cells are Teeth Made of?
Each layer of tissue comes from a different type of cell:
- Enamel – deposited by cells called ameloblasts
- Dentin – created by cells called odontoblasts
- Cementum – formed by cells called cementoblasts
- Pulp – made up of multiple cell types, including fibroblasts and undifferentiated mesenchymal cells
Are Teeth Alive?
While teeth are made of living and non-living tissues, a healthy tooth is considered alive. A tooth dies when it no longer receives a constant blood supply.
Trauma can cause a tooth to die. It might include an injury to the mouth during sports. A tooth can also die as a result of poor oral hygiene. Cavities will appear on the protective enamel covering and degrade it.
Tooth decay can occur if the enamel wears away enough to expose the dentin underneath.5 As decay progresses, it will affect the tissues underneath and can cause the tooth to die. A dead or dying tooth may be painful or discolored.
Are Teeth Considered Bones?
Teeth are not bones. They differentiate from bones in several ways:
- Their composition — bones are living tissue composed of collagen and calcium phosphate. Collagen provides a soft framework, and calcium adds strength. Meanwhile, teeth consist of four hard and soft tissues that are not identical to bones.
- How they grow — bones grow with your body as you age, but teeth don’t. Your baby teeth fall out, so your permanent set can replace them.
- Regeneration — bones can regenerate themselves, while teeth can’t. Practicing good dental hygiene and seeing your dentist for regular visits are essential.
While teeth and bones share similarities, they are not the same. Bones consist primarily of living tissue, while the material that makes up your teeth is mostly inorganic.
Keeping Teeth Teeth Strong & Healthy
Even though teeth are covered with the strongest and hardest mineral in the body, they can be easily broken down by sugar or lack of oral hygiene.
The tissues that make up human teeth can’t regenerate on their own. It’s up to you to protect them and prevent decay.
Steps for practicing good oral hygiene include:
- Brush your teeth with fluoride-based toothpaste twice daily
- Limit sugary foods and drinks
- Consume enough calcium
- Avoid grinding your teeth
- Visit your dentist for regular checkups
According to Dr. Nandita Lilly, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, “since a tooth cannot heal itself, it is vital to see your dentist regularly. If you develop any cavities, the tooth can be repaired promptly before causing extensive issues.”
Teeth consist of four hard and soft tissues: enamel, dentin, cementum, and pulp. Each plays its role in the function of the tooth.
A healthy tooth is alive, though it contains mainly inorganic material. While they share some commonalities with bones, teeth can’t repair themselves, so taking adequate care of them is crucial.
- Welborn, V. “Enamel synthesis explained.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Science, 18 Aug. 2020
- “Dentin.” Science Direct, Elsevier B.V., 2022
- “Cementum.” Science Direct, Elsevier B.V., 2022
- “Dental Pulp.” Oral Histology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, 2022
- “Bone and tooth minerals.” Science Learning Hub, The University of Waikato, 27 Apr. 2010