Does a spoonful of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee sometimes become a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.
Sensitive teeth are the result of stimulation of the cells within tiny tubules that run from the outside of the tooth into the center of the tooth where the nerve and blood supply is located. Where healthy enamel covers the tooth surface, you usually don’t feel pain, but when the hard enamel is worn away or exposed, teeth can become sensitive by eating or drinking foods and beverages that are hot or cold (think soup or iced soda), by touching the tooth (even with a toothbrush) or by exposing them to cold air (breathing through your mouth in the dead of winter).
Possible causes of sensitive teeth include:
- Tooth decay (cavities)
- Fractured or cracked teeth
- Worn fillings
- Gum disease
- Worn tooth enamel
- Exposed tooth root
In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth — the part above the gum line. Under the gum line a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin.
Dentin is less dense than enamel or cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum these tubules allow heat and cold, or acidic or sticky foods to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede. The result can be hypersensitivity.
This can be expressed as pain that is short and sharp (usually caused by hot or cold food or drink) followed by an ache. Try to pinpoint exactly where the pain is and when it started, as well as what caused the pain (ice cream, getting up in the morning, or possibly no specific catalyst, etc.) and if anything alleviates the pain (such as a warm compress or OTC pain medication). Your dentist can better prepare a diagnosis and treament plan when he or she has as much information as possible.
Sensitive teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest one of a variety of treatments:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. This contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.
- Fluoride gel. An in-office technique which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations.
- A crown, inlay or bonding. These may be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity.
- Surgical gum graft. If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
- Root canal. If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.
Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing sensitive-tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.
Sensitive teeth is one of the most common complaints of adult dental patients in America.
Source: http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth ; AGD Impact Fact Sheet 12.99