In biophotonics imaging, one important and quantitative task is layer-thickness estimation. In this study, we investigate the approach of combining optical coherence tomography and a maximum-likelihood (ML) estimator for layer thickness estimation in the context of tear film imaging. The motivation of this study is to extend our understanding of tear film dynamics, which is the prerequisite to advance the management of Dry Eye Disease, through the simultaneous estimation of the thickness of the tear film lipid and aqueous layers. The estimator takes into account the different statistical processes associated with the imaging chain. We theoretically investigated the impact of key system parameters, such as the axial point spread functions (PSF) and various sources of noise on measurement uncertainty. Simulations show that an OCT system with a 1 μm axial PSF (FWHM) allows unbiased estimates down to nanometers with nanometer precision. In implementation, we built a customized Fourier domain OCT system that operates in the 600 to 1000 nm spectral window and achieves 0.93 micron axial PSF in corneal epithelium. We then validated the theoretical framework with physical phantoms made of custom optical coatings, with layer thicknesses from tens of nanometers to microns. Results demonstrate unbiased nanometer-class thickness estimates in three different physical phantoms.