What Does Enamel Hypoplasia Look Like?

Tooth enamel is the hardest material in the human body. It makes up the visible outer layer of your teeth and is responsible for protecting the softer tissues that make up the inside of your teeth, called dentin. Enamel is translucent, meaning that the color of your teeth is actually defined by that softer pulpy dentin. If you can notice discolorations or defects in your child’s tooth, you may be noticing a condition known as enamel hypoplasia. This condition is a defect that inhibits the development of tooth enamel, resulting in a thinner or lesser quality protective layer. It often can be noticed as discoloration (white, yellow, or brown staining), pits, grooves, or even chipped or missing parts of the teeth. In the most severe cases, enamel will not grow at all.

Children suffering from enamel hypoplasia will experience a number of unpleasant symptoms. The lack of surface regularity can be a cause of pitting. Teeth with not enough enamel may also be much more sensitive to sugary and hot or cold food and drinks. They will be much more susceptible to wear from bruxism, the clenching or grinding of teeth. The acids from soft drinks, fruit juices, and sugary foods will also be more effective at eroding what little enamel does exist. The bacteria in our mouths that cause plaque and tartar will have a much easier time infecting the teeth, causing cavities that can quickly deepen, requiring much more intensive treatments.

If you notice any of these symptoms or are concerned about weakened teeth, your pediatric dentist will be able to help. While it may be painful, enamel hypoplasia is likely not an emergency situation. Your child’s dentist will perform an examination and take notes in order to monitor the condition of their teeth. If hypoplasia is a concern, there are a number of treatment options to alleviate the situation.

Protective sealants are often the best treatment for enamel hypoplasia. A special resin is painted onto the teeth and hardened with ultraviolet light. The resulting protective casing smoothes out the surface and creates a barrier that is impenetrable by bacteria. Without these sealants, cavities are nearly inevitable and can lead to pain and infection.

Just because a baby tooth is affected by enamel hypoplasia does not mean that permanent teeth will be. The conditions that cause hypoplasia can occur at any time during development.

The causes of enamel hypoplasia range from genetic or hereditary factors to environmental effects. There are a number of hereditary syndromes that can cause hypoplasia, but vitamin deficiencies, maternal illness, prenatal complications, low birth weight, or premature birth can also contribute to enamel hypoplasia. Environmental factors such as trauma to the face or mouth, infection, and malnutrition can also cause enamel hypoplasia.

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