Soft Teeth – Fact or Fiction?

It’s not uncommon to hear a patient say “I inherited soft teeth from my parents, that’s why I have so many cavities” or something along those lines.  But is there really such a thing as “soft teeth” or is it really just an urban myth that was created to justify the recurrence of cavities?

The short answer is yes, there really is a condition that results in soft teeth. However, it is not as common as most people would think, and is certainly not to blame in the vast majority of people who seem to constantly get cavities.  The condition is called Amelogenesis Imperfecta, which results from the improper formation of enamel, the outermost white layer of the tooth. When the enamel, which is normally the hardest part of the human body, does not develop properly it leaves the inner layers of the tooth unprotected from the acids in our diet and acids created by bacteria. These exposed areas are more prone to developing cavities, thus the apt description “soft teeth”.  Those who truly have this condition usually exhibit teeth with “mottled enamel” – irregular, pitted enamel that is often brown or discoloured.  In more severe cases, the enamel can be so thin or poorly formed that the teeth appear dark yellow/brown as the true colour of the inner layers of the teeth show through.

Soft Teeth
Relatively mild case of Amelogenesis Imperfecta showing the characteristic mottled enamel
Source: ISRN Dent. 2011; 2011: 586854 Engin Ağaçkiran et al

Rates of occurence of Amelogenesis Imperfecta are between 1 in 700 to 1 in 14000, depending on the demographics.  Given the rarity of the condition, those who continually get cavities may need to look for other reasons than “soft teeth” to explain the formation of new cavities.

If you are constantly getting new cavities and you don’t really have “soft teeth” like the ones above, then there are some other considerations that you might need to explore:

1) Analyze your diet – Diets high in sugar provide oral bacteria with a constant supply of food. The sugar is metabolized by the bacteria and acid is created as a byproduct, which essentially “melt” the teeth creating cavities.  So, a key to reducing the occurence of cavities is to minimize your sugar intake. Do an in-depth review of your diet by writing down every single thing you put in your mouth and check to see how much sugar you actually ingest – you might be surprised!  Also, go easy on the acidic foods and drinks as well – Energy drinks, pop, citrus fruits such as oranges, and even tomatoes.

2) Ineffective oral hygiene – You might be brushing 4 or 5 times a day and flossing twice a day, but if you are not doing it effectively, then you can still be prone to getting cavities.  What is effective brushing? – removal of ALL plaque from your teeth using proper brushing and flossing techniques.  It’s easy to develop bad brushing habits over the years, so don’t be afraid to speak to your dentist or dental hygienist for a review of proper techniques.

3) Certain medications and medical conditions can reduce the amount of saliva produced in your mouth, leading to a “dry mouth“.  Without the constant flow of saliva to help wash away sugars and plaque from their teeth, people with dry mouth will be more prone to getting cavities.  Have your dentist or medical doctor review your health history and medications to help rule out possible causes of dry mouth symptoms.

– Dr. Michael Banh

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