Don't Be So Sensitive
If you’ve ever taken a lick of an ice cream cone or a sip of hot tea only to be met with an excruciatingly sharp pain in your tooth, or if brushing or flossing causes you to flinch, you may be suffering from sensitive teeth. But just what causes this condition, and how can you stop being so “sensitive”?
Sensitive teeth may be caused by many things, including cavities, a cracked tooth, worn tooth enamel, worn fillings, and exposed tooth roots, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). If a cavity, filling, or cracked tooth is behind this hypersensitivity, your dentist can rectify the situation by filling the cavity, replacing the filling, or fixing the fractured tooth. However, if your dentist determines that cavities and fractured teeth are not the source of the problem, then the cause could be either worn tooth enamel or an exposed tooth root.
All healthy teeth are composed of three layers of substances: enamel, cementum, and dentin. Enamel, the strongest substance in the body, protects the tooth’s crown, making up the top layer. Cementum, the middle layer, protects the tooth root under the gum line. Dentin, which can be found under the enamel and cementum, is the least dense part of the tooth. When the dentin loses its protective covering, hot and cold foods, as well as acidic or sticky foods, stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth, leading to hypersensitivity and discomfort.
Dentin can also be exposed when gums recede, leading to sensitivity near the gum line. Good oral hygiene is the best way to prevent gums from receding and causing hypersensitivity. Flossing regularly and brushing correctly—using a soft-bristled brush and not brushing too roughly, which can injure the gums and expose tooth roots—can help keep your gums healthy and prevent them from receding.
In the interim, desensitizing toothpastes may help reduce your discomfort. These toothpastes contain compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. However, you should note that several applications are required before sensitivity is reduced.
Additionally, if desensitizing toothpastes do not offer you relief, your dentist may be able to treat you using in-office techniques, such as applying a fluoride gel that strengthens the tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensation. If you suffer from receding gums, your dentist may be able to “seal” the sensitive teeth by using agents, composed of plastic material, that bond to the tooth root.
Regardless of the severity of your sensitivity and discomfort, and even if desensitizing toothpastes temporarily alleviate the pain, you should visit your dentist to determine the cause of the sensitivity. Doing this will not only allow you to enjoy that ice cream cone pain-free, but it will help head off any conditions, such as exposed roots, that if left untreated could eventually require further treatment, such as a root canal.