dental hygiene

The Structure of a Tooth

dental hygiene

Teeth are alive. Though their structure includes some of the hardest minerals that exist in the human body, they also have nerves and blood vessels and include softer tissue that connects to the rest of our bodies. At Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert AZ, we’re all about keeping your teeth healthy through proper nutrition and practicing good dental hygiene. Good oral care goes a long way in enabling your living teeth to do their job, and do it well.

Structure of a Tooth

Starting from the outside and working our way toward the inside of a tooth, here are the layers that comprise those teeth you use every time you chew food:


The outer layer of a tooth is the enamel. Usually white or creamy ivory in color, enamel is the hardest layer of a tooth. Containing a mineral called hydroxyapatite that is related to calcium phosphate, the enamel is inorganic, meaning it’s not a living substance. But the enamel is the primary protector of the rest of the tooth’s structure, which includes the tooth’s inner, living parts.


Directly underneath the enamel is the dentin. Dentin is the largest layer of a tooth. It’s softer than the enamel layer and is comprised of living tissue that looks like bone and is susceptible to bacterial infection. If the outer layer of enamel protecting the dentin is compromised through breakage, cracking, or tooth wear, cavities or tooth sensitivity can occur. But dentin also has the incredible capability of healing itself if a bacterial infection isn’t too pervasive.


The most inner layer, the pulp is the softest tissue of a tooth, comprised of nerves and blood vessels. Those blood vessels help keep the tooth healthy, and the nerves help to sound the alarm when infection is present. The pulp provides each tooth with the nutrients it needs for vital life function.


As the name implies, the cementum layer is bone-like tissue. It’s a lot like the tooth’s enamel, and also contains hydroxyapatite, as well as connective proteins. While the enamel protects the part of the tooth that is above the gumline, cementum serves as a harder layer that protects the dentin and pulp area below the gumline. Cementum also provides stability for the tooth by attaching the tooth to the periodontal ligaments that hold the tooth in its place in the jawbone.

Above and Below the Gumline

As dentists, we call the area above the gumline the crown. The area below the gumline is called the root. Roots involve three of the layers mentioned above: the dentin, pulp, and cementum. If for some reason the enamel of the crown is damaged or worn away, the root area can become infected. That infection, if not treated, can spread through the bloodstream into other parts of the body—one reason to visit the dentist if you’ve got pain sensations or if you experience tooth damage.

Our staff at Lifetime Family dental in Gilbert, AZ has seen all sorts of teeth, both healthy and infected. The best medicine for keeping your living teeth strong is to practice good dental hygiene. That includes brushing twice daily, flossing daily, and scheduling two dental cleanings each year. If you live in the Gilbert Arizona region and you need dental care, please give our office a call. We’d like to see your living smile stay vibrant and strong!


Images used under creative commons license – Commercial Use (7/23/18) Kjerstin_Michaela (Pixabay)