Have you ever felt pain after a bite of cold ice cream or a spoonful of hot soup? If so, you’re not alone. While pain caused by hot or cold temperatures could be a sign of a cavity, it is also common in people who have sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity, or “Dentin Hypersensitivity” is pain or discomfort in the teeth or tooth as a response to certain stimuli, such as hot and cold temperatures.
Symptoms of sensitive teeth:
- Hot OR cold foods or beverages
- Cold air
- Sweet foods or beverages
- Acidic foods or beverages
- Alcohol-based mouth rinse
- Dental related issues such as decay (cavities), fractured teeth, worn fillings, gum disease, worn tooth enamel and exposed tooth roots.
In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns (tooth matter above gums) that are visibly seen. Under the gum line, there is a layer called the Cementum that protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel (upper) and cementum (lower) is the tooth dentin. Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains dentin tubules. Dentin tubules are located in the dentin of the tooth and allow the tooth to feel sensations. When dentin loses its protective covering, these tubes allow heat and cold or acidic foods to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth.
Factors that contribute to sensitivity:
- Brushing too hard or using a hard bristle toothbrush can wear down enamel causing dentin to be exposed.
- Gum recession – often happens with gum disease. Recession exposes the dentin.
- Cracked teeth – cracks can become filled with bacteria and cause inflammation in the pulp which could possibly lead to abscess and infection.
- Teeth grinding or clenching.
- Plaque build-up.
- Long term use of mouthwash – some over the counter mouthwash brands contain acids which can worsen tooth sensitivity.
- Acidic foods – can break down tooth enamel.
Sensitivity in teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the tooth sensitivity. Dr. Still will recommend one of the varieties of treatments best suited for the issue.
- Desensitizing toothpaste – contains compounds that help block transmissions of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve.
- Crown, Onlay/Inlay or Bonding – these options can be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity.
- Surgical Gum Graft – If gum tissue has been lost or withdrawn from the root, a gum graft will help to protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
- Root Canal – If the sensitivity is severe enough and cannot be treated by other means, Dr. Still may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.