Are Your Teeth Sensitive?
Is a taste of ice cream or a sip
of hot coffee sometimes a painful experience for
you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince
occasionally? If so, you may have a common problem
called "sensitive teeth."
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Cavities and fractured teeth can
cause sensitive teeth. But if your dentist has ruled
these problems out, then worn tooth enamel, a
cracked tooth (PDF) or an exposed tooth root may
be the cause.
A layer of enamel, the strongest
substance in the body, protects the crowns of
healthy teeth. A layer called cementum protects the
tooth root under the gum line. Underneath the enamel
and the cementum is dentin, a part of the tooth that
is less dense than enamel or cementum.
The dentin contains microscopic
tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When the
dentin loses its protective covering, the tubules
allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to
stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth.
This causes hypersensitivity and occasional
discomfort. Fortunately, the irritation does not
cause permanent damage to the pulp. Dentin may be
exposed when gums recede. The result can be
hypersensitivity near the gum line.
Proper oral hygiene is the key to
preventing gums from receding and causing
sensitive-tooth pain. If you brush your teeth
incorrectly or even over-brush, gum problems can
result. Ask your dentist if you have any questions
about your daily oral hygiene routine.
Treating Sensitive Teeth
Sensitive teeth can be treated.
Your dentist may suggest that you try a
desensitizing toothpaste, which contains compounds
that help block transmission of sensation from the
tooth surface to the nerve. Desensitizing toothpaste
usually requires several applications before the
sensitivity is reduced. When choosing toothpaste or
any other dental care products, look for those that
display the American Dental Association's Seal of
Acceptance–your assurance that products have met ADA
criteria for safety and effectiveness.
If the desensitizing toothpaste
does not ease your discomfort, your dentist may
suggest in-office techniques. A fluoride gel, which
strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the
transmission of sensations, may be applied to the
sensitive areas of the teeth.
If receding gums cause the
sensitivity, your dentist may use agents that bond
to the tooth root to "seal" the sensitive teeth. The
sealer usually is composed of a plastic material.
In cases where hypersensitivity
is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by
other means, your dentist may recommend endodontic
(root canal) treatment to eliminate the problem.