Demineralization is a process in which minerals are removed from tooth enamel. Enamel is a crystalline latticework of a variety of minerals, mostly hydroxyapatite.
Demineralized enamel transmits hot, cold, pressure, and pain more than normal enamel. This can contribute to sensitivity and pain, even if the tooth does not have a cavity. If too many minerals are lost, it can lead to a cavity.
Demineralization is mostly caused by strong, stable acids, which can be found in foods such as tomatoes and oranges. Acids can also be caused by bacteria in the mouth and sugars from foods. These acids dissolve minerals. Even small amounts of acid can demineralize tooth enamel.
Remineralization is the process of restoring minerals to the hydroxyapatite latticework structure. The new minerals need to have the exact same shape, size, and electrical charge as the ones lost.
Demineralization and remineralization both occur on the surface of teeth. The bloodstream and enamel are not connected, so taking mineral supplements will not remineralize teeth. Events that use minerals in the blood, such as pregnancy and healing a broken bone, cannot cause demineralization of teeth.
Natural remineralization can occur. Carbonic acid is a mild, unstable acid formed by carbon dioxide from breath and water from saliva. It dissolves minerals in food, which can be incorporated in tooth enamel to remineralize it. The amount of remineralization depends on the amount of minerals present in food and saliva, the amount of carbonic acid present, the proximity of the carbonic acid to mineral molecules, whether a demineralized portion of enamel requires the exact same mineral ion, whether the spot is clean, and whether the carbonic acid is converted to carbon dioxide and water.
You can help to remineralize your teeth by brushing twice a day for two minutes, flossing daily, and getting regular dental checkups and cleanings. Fluoride toothpaste can help to remineralize teeth by reducing bacteria and strengthening enamel. Many fluoride toothpastes contain calcium that can enhance the process of rebuilding enamel.