Tooth Sensitivity – General

What Is It?

Tooth sensitivity is something that affects a number of people. It is often caused by eating or drinking something hot, cold, sweet or acidic. Under normal conditions, the underlying dentine of the tooth (the layer that immediately surrounds the nerve fibres) is covered by the enamel in the tooth crown, and the gums that surround the tooth. Over time, the enamel covering can get thinner, thus providing less protection. The gums can also recede over time, exposing the underlying root surface dentine.

The dentine contains a large numbers of pores or tubules that run from the outside of the tooth to the nerve fibres in the centre. When the dentine is exposed, these tubules can be affected by changes in temperature or certain foods. Here is an image of what the dentine tubules look like under the microscope:

 

What causes it?

Exposure of the dentine can occur due to a number of factors. Some of the more common reasons are:

  • Gum recession due to age or improper tooth brushing
  • Acidic beverages (such as soft drinks) that cause enamel erosion and dentine exposure
  • Tooth grinding – this may actually cause most or all of the teeth to feel sensitive
  • Brushing with a very abrasive toothpaste, brushing incorrectly and/or brushing more than three times a day could result in a loss of enamel
  • Gum disease, which can result in gum recession
  • A chipped or fractured tooth may expose the dentine

In addition, some dental treatments can cause sensitivity. Treatments such as tooth whitening , professional dental cleanings, having braces put on or getting a filling placed have been known to cause sensitivity during or after the procedure.

What can I do about it?

The first step in doing something about dental sensitivity is to find out what the cause is – a dental professional can help you with this. If the sensitivity is due to exposed dentine, there are a number of steps you can take, as can your dental professional, to help reduce the sensitivity. These can include:

  • Using a very soft bristle tooth brush
  • Brushing correctly to help prevent abrasion of the enamel and recession of the gums
  • Using a toothpaste specially formulated to help reduce sensitivity
  • The dental professional can:
    • Apply a fluoride varnish on the sensitive areas to help strengthen the tooth and block the dentine tubules
    • Prescribe a high fluoride tooth paste to use every day
    • Place a dental restoration to build up the areas that have lost enamel

In the end, whether you need an in-office procedure or over-the-counter products, the most important step is to see a dental professional so that he or she can determine the cause of the tooth sensitivity and help you find a solution that will work.

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