What are sensitive teeth? More commonly referred to as dentin hypersensitivity can be defined by sharp pains of short duration (few seconds) that come from exposed inner layer that contains the nerve of the tooth found beneath the hard outer enamel layer (dentine). Individuals that experience sensitive teeth may find that pain can be triggered by hot, cold, sour and sweet beverages or foods, vigorous brushing and even by cold air.
Teeth hyper sensitivity can mean anything from getting a mild twinge to having severe discomfort that can continue for several hours.
What causes sensitive teeth?
The inner dentin layer is composed of thousands of tiny hollow tubes that are filled with fluid. Tooth sensitivity is caused by the movement of the fluid within the dentin tubes which results in nerve irritation. When the hard outer layer of enamel is worn down or if the gums have receded, the surfaces of these tiny tubes can become exposed, resulting sharp pain.
Who suffers from sensitive teeth?
Many people suffer from sensitive teeth and it can start at any time. It is more common in people aged between 20 and 40, although it can affect people in their early teens and when they are over 70. Women are more likely to be affected than men.
What are the most common causes of sensitivity?
Toothbrush abrasion – brushing too hard, and brushing from side to side, can cause dentine to be worn away, particularly where the teeth meet the gums. The freshly exposed dentine may then become sensitive.
Dental erosion – this is loss of tooth enamel caused by attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks. If enamel is worn away the dentine underneath is exposed, which may lead to sensitivity.
Gum recession – gums may naturally recede (shrink back), and the roots will become exposed and can be more sensitive. Root surfaces do not have an enamel layer to protect them.
Gum disease – a build-up of plague or tartar can cause the gum to recede down the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth. Pockets can form in the gums around the tooth, making the area difficult to keep clean and the problem worse.
Tooth grinding – this is a habit which involves clenching and grinding the teeth together. This can cause the enamel of the teeth to wear away, making the teeth sensitive.
Cracked tooth or leaking defective filling – a cracked tooth is one that has become broken. A crack can run from the biting surface of a tooth down towards the root. Extreme temperatures, especially cold, will cause discomfort.
Improper teeth whitening – some patients have sensitivity for a short time during or after having their teeth bleached. Discuss this with your dentist before having treatment.
Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing gums from receding and causing sensitive-tooth pain.
If you brush your teeth incorrectly or even over-brush, gum problems can result. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine. For more tips on caring for your teeth, see “Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums.”
How to Treat Sensitive Teeth?
Sensitive teeth can be treated with desensitising toothpaste, which contains compounds that can help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. If the desensitising toothpaste does not ease your discomfort, we may suggest chair side fluoride application. A fluoride gel, which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations, may be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth.
If receding gums cause the sensitivity, we can agents that bond to the tooth root to “seal” the sensitive teeth. The sealer usually is composed of materials that can slowly release fluoride over a period of time as well as sealing the exposed root surface.
Avoiding frequent consumption of acidic foods and beverages such as fruit juices and soda will decrease your risk of developing dentin hypersensitivity. Conditions such as bulimia and acid reflux can have a similar erosive effect on tooth enamel.
Using a soft bristled toothbrush and brushing in a circular motion will minimise enamel abrasion and thus reduce sensitivity. Using desensitising toothpaste will protect exposed dentin by blocking the dentin tubes. Avoid whitening toothpastes as these tend to be more abrasive and result in further loss of enamel.