Do you cringe every time you take a bite of your favorite pizza or ice cream? According to the Academy of General Dentistry, roughly 45 million Americans, about 1 in 5 people, suffer from some degree of tooth sensitivity. Sensitive teeth are very common, and often, it can be a recurring problem. However, simple remedies can provide all the relief that patients need.
GETTING TO THE ROOT OF SENSITIVE TEETH
Sensitive teeth, tooth sensitivity, and dentin hypersensitivity are all one and the same. Below the outer portion of the tooth, under the enamel, is where you find dentin. When the dentin is exposed to cold air, sugary or sweet foods and beverages, the result is tooth sensitivity and pain. Dentin hypersensitivity can vary from time to time and season to season. Defined as a short, sharp pain arising from exposed dentin, dentin hypersensitivity typically is triggered by a stimulus that is thermal, evaporative, tactile, osmotic, or chemical in nature, and cannot be ascribed to any other defect or pathology.
Dentin is composed of tiny open tubules. Dentin hypersensitivity is most commonly explained as stimulus that affects the open tubules of the dentin surface, resulting in pain. Common stimuli include foods and beverages that are hot, cold, sweet or sour. Cold air also is a common stimulus.
Think of your gums and the enamel on your teeth as a down comforter covering and protecting your body from the cool winter air. Over time, the gums may recede or the enamel or dentin on your teeth may wear down, creating the conditions for tooth sensitivity.
EXPLORING THE CAUSES
We can easily identify the causes of tooth sensitivity:
- Improper brushing - brushing too hard!
- Tooth whitening- (usually temporary)
- Loss of enamel- resulting from highly acidic diets (citrus, soda)
- Dry mouth- due to certain medications or cancer treatment (Chemotherapy).
There are many other causes, some of which can require a more comprehensive treatment plan.
To name a few:
- Broken, chipped or fractured teeth
- Nerve damage to the root, due to deep cavities
- Periodontal (gum) diseases
- Receding gums
DESENSITIZERS - THE HOME VERSION
Desensitizers come in many forms, from simple at home remedies to in-office solutions applied by the professionals.
For mild cases where patients complain of low-level hot, cold, sweet, or sour sensitivity, many people do well using desensitizing toothpaste. Toothpastes such as Sensodyne contain solutions, such as potassium nitrate, that assist in decreasing dentin hypersensitivity. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth must be used daily for the most effective results. In addition to these toothpastes, other desensitizing products include over- the- counter fluoride rinses and gels. Prescription toothpastes, like Prevident 5000 plus, with higher than usual fluoride content, can be very effective in decreasing sensitivity.
For very sensitive teeth, an in-office clinical desensitizer can be used to decrease the sensitivity, and use of desensitizing toothpaste can be used for ongoing maintenance. In addition, restorations can be placed to cover exposed dentin.
Keep in mind, there is a possibility that sensitivity will recur over time. So, don’t stop using an over- the- counter desensitizing regimen.
BLEACHING INDUCED TOOTH SENSITIVITY
Tooth sensitivity is the most common side effect of both professionally dispensed and over the counter tooth whitening systems.
Bleaching induced sensitivity can be significantly decreased by using a prescription fluoride gel and/or an anti- hypersensitivity toothpaste for 2 weeks prior to beginning a whitening procedure and during the treatment. The desensitizing toothpaste does not adversely affect whitening results.
Smile Beautifully, Smile Confidently, Smile Frequently