What is tooth sensitivity?
Ever felt a sharp pain like sensation while having a scoop of ice cream? You may be suffering from tooth hypersensitivity. You should consult your dentist to find out what the underlying cause is in your case and get treated for it accordingly.
Tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, is a condition when you feel a sudden sharp pain or discomfort while consuming hot or cold foods and beverages. In some instances, it can be just a temporary issue whereas it may be a chronic phenomenon in others.
Why are my teeth sensitive?
Our teeth are covered with a strong protective layer called enamel. Beneath the enamel lies the dentin layer which is composed of minute fluid-filled tubules that pass signals like change in temperature or pressure to the underlying nerves. When the layer of enamel wears down, dentin gets exposed and so do the nerves. Hence, any hot, cold or sweet food or even a blow of cold air can easily disturb these nerves causing discomfort and pain.
The roots of our teeth do not have enamel. Hence, exposed roots due to receding gums can cause sensitivity.
Therefore, any activity that causes the loss of the enamel layer and recession of gums can lead to tooth sensitivity. Here are a few of the most common reasons of dentin hypersensitivity:
Vigorous brushing of teeth
Though it may sound funny, we tend to brush with excessive force in the pursuit of achieving a clean mouth. Gradually, these forces can wear off the enamel layer leading to sensitive teeth.
If the bristles of your toothbrush are very hard, you may end up scraping off your enamel and/or gums.
Foods and beverages like carbonated drinks can be another very common reason for sensitive teeth.
When teeth break or chip off, the dentin tubules may get exposed. This can lead to sensitivity.
When your filling cracks, the fluids inside your mouth can leak into the cavity and stimulate the underlying nerves.
Clenching and grinding of teeth
Involuntary grinding of teeth or bruxism can cause enamel loss in almost all the back teeth and sometimes, even in the front teeth.
Untreated inflammation of gums can lead to severe forms of gum disease like periodontitis which is characterised by loose and receding gums.
Conditions like GERD (GastroEsophageal Reflux Disease) cause the stomach acids to travel to the mouth, thereby eroding the enamel, especially the part on the inner surfaces of the teeth.
Certain dental procedures like dental cleaning and bleaching of teeth may cause temporary sensitivity of teeth.
How can sensitive teeth be treated?
Sensitive teeth can be treated by any of the following methods:
- Desensitising toothpaste: These are special toothpastes that contain ingredients like potassium nitrate. Application of the toothpaste for 5 minutes and then brushing it off can create a barrier that will prevent the pain signals from entering the dentinal tubules.
- Fillings that cover root defects: Exposed roots of the teeth can be filled with specialised fillings which can block the pain signals.
- Root canal therapy: In cases of severe tooth sensitivity, root canal therapy is considered as the best option to manage the issue.
- Fluoride application: Your dentist may apply a layer of fluoride on your teeth to ward off sensitivity.
- Dentin bonding agent application: For the application of dentin bonding agent, your dentist may need to give you an anaesthetic shot prior to the procedure.
- Gum grafting: If gums have receded too far, gum grafts can be placed surgically to cover the roots of the teeth and reduce sensitivity.
What are the ways of preventing sensitive teeth?
You can follow these simple steps to ensure that your teeth may not turn sensitive:
- Brush your teeth twice daily to maintain good oral hygiene.
- Never use toothpaste with a high percentage of abrasives.
- Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Use gentle strokes while brushing teeth and activate your brush in an up-down manner instead of moving side-to-side.
- If your dentist points out that you have the problem of bruxism, he will ask you to wear a mouthguard before you go to sleep. Make sure to wear them every single day to prevent further damage to your teeth.
- Abstain from acidic food products and carbonated drinks to protect your enamel. Use of straw is advised while having acidic beverages to limit the damage to your teeth.