June 2015: Sensitive Teeth

Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common complaints among dental patients, and at least 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sensitive teeth at some time. Tooth sensitivity can affect a person’s eating, drinking, and breathing habits. Eating a spoonful of ice cream or drinking a cup of hot coffee can be a painful experience for someone with sensitive teeth.

When the gums recede or the hard enamel on your teeth is worn down, the surface beneath, called the dentin, is exposed. This layer makes up the inner part and roots, which have thousands of tiny tubes that lead to the nerve center of the tooth, called the pulp. When dentin loses its protective covering, these tubes allow the heat or cold to reach the nerves inside the tooth, triggering pain. Some causes for sensitive teeth are:

  • Wear and Tear: brushing too hard and using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and expose dentin
  • Tooth Decay and cavities
  • Gum Disease: inflamed and sore gums pull back, exposing the roots of teeth
  • Damage: chipped or broken teeth can fill with bacteria, causing inflammation in the pulp
  • Teeth Grinding: grinding or clenching your teeth can wear down enamel
  • Tooth-Whitening Products: some products wear down enamel, creating sensitivity
  • Age: teeth are most sensitive between 25-30
  • Acidic Foods/Drinks: foods or drinks with high acid content wear down enamel

If teeth are highly sensitive for more than 3-4 days, and react badly to hot and cold temperatures, it is best to visit your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. To combat sensitive teeth, your dentist must first find the cause of the sensitivity. To reduce tooth sensitivity, there are a few steps you can take without needing to visit the dentist. These include:

  • Regular brushing and flossing
  • Using a soft-bristled toothbrush
  • Using a desensitizing toothpaste. These toothpastes are made specifically with compounds to help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve
  • Using fluoridated dental products, like a fluoridated mouthwash
  • Using a mouth guard at night to limit grinding

If your teeth are still extremely sensitive, after trying these approaches, you may require treatment from your dentist. Sensitive teeth can be treated, but it depends on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist, after discovering the root of the problem, may suggest one or more of the following:

  • Fluoride Gel: this in-office technique strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations
  • Crown, Inlay or Bonding: white fillings or bondings can be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity
  • Surgical Gum Graft: if receding gums are the cause of the problem, gum grafts will protect the root and reduce sensitivity
  • Root Canal: if sensitivity is severe and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend a root canal

Proper oral hygiene and maintenance is the key to preventing sensitive teeth. To discuss your sensitive teeth, or your oral hygiene routine, call our office at (252) 756-6626 to schedule an appointment or click here for our online appointment request form. During your visit, we can discuss the steps you are taking to prevent sensitivity, and alternative solutions to reduce sensitivity.

Source: American Dental Association