Enamel is the outer covering of your teeth. Because the composition of enamel is 96 percent mineral, it is the hardest substance in the body.

However, some people have teeth that may be weaker or “soft.” When your teeth don’t have enough enamel or have weakened enamel, it can make them more vulnerable to damage and decay.

Keep reading to find out more about soft teeth, including conditions that cause them and preventive measures you can take.

Your teeth are composed of four layers of dental tissue. These include:

  • Enamel. This is the outer covering of the teeth that makes them feel hard.
  • Dentin. Dentin is the tissue located immediately under the enamel. It’s hard but not as hard as enamel.
  • Cementum. The cementum is another hard substance that protects the tooth’s roots.
  • Pulp. Pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth that contains soft tissue that isn’t calcified or hard.

Often, when a person refers to their teeth as being “soft,” they are talking about a problem with enamel. Because enamel is the hardest part of the tooth, when there’s less of it or it’s damaged, the softer inner layers can be revealed.

If the damage is extensive, the soft, innermost pulp may be exposed. This can cause pain and tooth sensitivity, especially to hot and cold. A dentist may also describe your teeth as soft due to their lack of overall protective enamel.

The following are some examples of potential underlying causes that can cause soft teeth.

  • Enamel erosion. Unfortunately, once enamel is destroyed, it can’t repair itself. This is the case when enamel erosion occurs due to exposure to acidic foods, acid reflux, teeth grinding, and more. Each of these factors can destroy tooth enamel, exposing softer inner layers.
  • Enamel hypomineralization. This condition occurs when the body’s process for creating enamel (known as mineralization) is interrupted. The condition can cause soft or bumpy enamel to grow on the teeth. Children with this condition often have very sensitive teeth that are prone to decay due to a lack of enamel protection.
  • Enamel hypoplasia. Enamel hypoplasia is a condition that occurs when a person’s teeth have noticeable enamel imperfections. Examples may include brown or yellow teeth, as well as exposed dentin.
  • Amelogenesis imperfecta. This rare disorder affects tooth enamel formation. It can cause the teeth to have noticeable abnormalities, including pitting and discoloration. Some people also have teeth that are smaller in size with this condition.
  • Sensitive teeth. Although the term “sensitive” isn’t always accurate, some people may refer to their sensitive teeth as soft. Sensitive teeth can be described as tooth discomfort with changes in temperature or other triggering factors. This can be the result of damage to the teeth or naturally thinner tooth enamel.

There are also external factors that can potentially weaken the teeth and enamel, causing soft teeth. Examples include:

  • Teeth grinding. Nighttime teeth grinding can wear down tooth enamel.
  • Injury. Trauma to the teeth, such as a chip or a broken tooth, can affect your enamel and strength of the affected tooth. Even a repaired tooth is likely to be less strong than it was before the injury.
  • Harsh dental practices. Using a “hard” bristled toothbrush or even brushing your teeth too hard can gradually wear down your enamel and lead to damage.
  • Acid reflux. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you may have acid that frequently comes up from the stomach into your mouth. This can damage your enamel and weaken your teeth.

If you’re concerned about your tooth enamel or that your teeth feel soft, talk with a dentist and get a thorough dental checkup.

While you can’t prevent some disorders that may cause soft teeth, you can take steps to prevent tooth decay. Steps to take include:

  • brushing your teeth at least twice daily with a toothpaste that contains fluoride
  • using dental floss, a water flosser, or another interdental device to clean between your teeth daily
  • including various fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products in your diet when possible
  • avoiding long periods of snacking, which can potentially expose the teeth to acidic materials
  • visiting a dentist at least twice per year (or as recommended) for cleanings
  • drinking fluoridated water, which can help protect the tooth enamel from decay and also helps to prevent dry mouth, which can reduce your risk for cavities
  • avoiding sugary drinks, such as soda, juice, and sports drinks, which are often acidic and also attract bacteria

You can also talk with a dentist about additional tips for your specific needs. They might recommend certain products that can help, such as prescription fluoride toothpaste.

Tips for relieving tooth pain

If you have tooth pain or sensitivity related to a lack of enamel, you can try these tips to reduce discomfort:

  • Use a toothpaste specifically made for sensitive teeth. They contain fewer irritants that could cause discomfort.
  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Avoid foods and drinks known to worsen tooth pain, like high-sugar foods, fizzy drinks, and foods and drinks at extreme temperatures.
  • Wear a mouthguard at night if you grind your teeth.
  • Gargle with a saltwater solution twice daily by mixing 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of salt in 8 ounces of lukewarm water and swishing for 30 seconds.
  • Soak a piece of cotton in clove oil and apply it to your painful tooth or gum area. Allow the oil to sit on the area for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Swish clove oil mixed with coconut oil in your mouth for 10 to 15 minutes. This is a practice known as oil pulling.

Factors and medical conditions that affect tooth enamel can potentially contribute to “soft” teeth. Because soft teeth are usually more vulnerable to damage and decay, it’s important to talk with a dentist about ways you can protect your teeth.

Maintaining regular dental visits and keeping up with dental hygiene is important for keeping your teeth strong and healthy.