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What is Dentin?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Dentin is the creamy white to yellow mineralized substance that makes up the bulk of teeth, from the tusks of elephants to the incisors of canines. It is a dense matrix of minerals, primarily calcium, and it serves to protect the sensitive pulp of the tooth and create a base under the enamel, or outer coating of the tooth. Taking care of dentin is extremely important, because although it is dense and hard, it is susceptible to rot and infection, which can lead to oral pain and expensive dental treatments.

The formation of dentin starts with odontoblasts, cells that secrete collagen, which forms into a dense matrix of tubes that grow out from the pulp of the tooth. These tubes are known as dentinal tubules, because they are the underlying structure of this area of the tooth. As the tubes grow out towards the surface of the tooth, they become more widely spread apart, but the dentin is still fairly porous, thanks to the multitude of small holes in each tooth.

The majority of dentin is mineralized tissue. However, it also contains mineral rich fluids called dentinal fluids, which may be responsible for the mineralization of the tissue as it is secreted by the odontoblasts. Dentinal fluids contain proteins, sodium, and calcium, and are concentrated in the dentinal tubules.

Dentin is both harder and denser than bone, and for this reason has been a popular choice for carving and other traditional crafts. That of elephants, commonly called ivory, has long been a highly prized commodity in many parts of the world, but other animals such as walruses and hippos have also been hunted for their teeth. Most craftspeople prefer to work with recently harvested dentin, which is more workable due to a higher moisture content. Individuals who own crafts made from this material should keep them moisturized if they are not worn on the skin regularly to prevent them from cracking and losing their finish.

Caring for the living dentin in the mouth is an important part of routine dental care. If an infection manages to penetrate the much harder enamel of the tooth, it can quickly lead to rot. In addition to being uncomfortable, dental infections have been linked with other medical problems, such as septicemia. People should make sure that all the animals in their life, including pets, receive regular dental care including checkups and cleaning, along with routine care like flossing, brushing, and the use of mouthwash.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon937179 — On Mar 04, 2014

I have great teeth even after not going to the dentist for years. I just abhorred it. I do dental flossing every now and then. I decided to go to a dentist and get x-rays. I needed my teeth deep cleaned and the doctor said I needed my old feelings (two on each side) extracted and upgraded. I never experienced any problems with the old feelings since I had them put in, and that has been years.

The dentist convinced me to have it done. The dentist had difficulty taking out the old filling, and applied lots of pulling pressure, drilling pressure, and sawing to I guess balance the bit-wings? After the anesthetic wore off, I had spontaneous, throbbing and lingering pain with a great amount of pressure and inflammation. I feel a shooting pain in my face and mouth, especially during the night. It got worse when I lay down. What caused this to happen?

By orangey03 — On Aug 07, 2011

When I went to my dentist to have my teeth whitened, he told me that the dentin is what they actually whiten. The outer enamel is somewhat clear. The dentin itself is usually yellow. This is the color that you can see through the enamel.

To whiten the actual dentin, the dentist places a peroxide solution on top of the enamel. This opens up the enamel’s pores and lets the solution reach the dentin. Then, it can lighten it and make the teeth appear whiter.

This process usually takes more than one visit. I had to go in for three treatments before my teeth got as white as I wanted them.

By kylee07drg — On Aug 06, 2011

When I was in training to become a dental assistant, I learned about how cavities form. It begins with plaque, which is a filmy bacteria. It sticks to the teeth, and the bacteria creates acid. This acid may eat through the enamel and cause a cavity, which is just a hole through the enamel.

When the dentist drills, he is making an opening. One thing it does is get the rot out of the dentin. The next thing it does is create a shape that the filling can bond to and fill up.

If a cavity goes untreated, the bacteria can eat through the dentin all the way to the pulp. There, it can cause an infection, and you will need a root canal. This is why it is important to take care of cavities.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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