A sensitive issue – Sensitive teeth problems

Sensitive teeth problems and how a dentist can help

Many people, at one point or another, have suffered with sensitive teeth. A huge range of products are on the market, offering to rid us of this annoying discomfort. But what is the cause of tooth sensitivity? How can we avoid getting it, and do the treatments available really work?

Studies from the past few years have shown that over 50% of the population will experience sensitivity at some point in their life. Many of these people fail to mention the problem to their dentist, so the issue can never be resolved. For some people, sensitivity is a discomfort that forces them to modify their eating habits and has an effect of their quality of life.

Tooth sensitivity, when not caused by decay, trauma or infection, is due to a communication between the outside environment and the dental pulp (the soft mass of living tissue inside each tooth). This stems from a loss or thinning of the protective layer that encases our teeth, known as enamel, which consequently exposes the underlying dentine. Dentine is a much softer material than enamel and is penetrated by tubules that travel all the way through the thickness of the tooth to the pulp. When the dentine becomes exposed, water inside these tubules can be altered by temperature fluctuations. This in turn stimulates the nerve endings inside the dental pulp, causing the sensation of a sharp sensitivity.

Dentine can become exposed in two ways: the enamel over the top of it can be worn down through abrasion (e.g. aggressive tooth brushing), attrition (e.g. grinding teeth together) or erosion (e.g. an acidic diet). The other cause is gum recession, which exposes a type of dentine (root dentine) that doesn’t have any natural protection other than a soft tissue covering. Periodontal disease (a disease causing the tissues around teeth to recede and deplete) also exposes root dentine. The most recent Adult Dental Health Survey stated that 45% of adults have active periodontal disease and 15% have tooth wear that exposes underlying dentine. This makes for a large proportion of people suffering with sensitivity.

So how can we protect ourselves? To prevent the likelihood of ever suffering from sensitivity you should protect your enamel in the following ways:

  • follow a low acid diet
  • don’t brush too roughly
  • practice good interdental cleaning with floss to prevent periodontal disease
  • speak to a dentist if you suspect you grind your teeth

However, for some people sensitivity is something that cannot be avoided. In these instances, and for those where prevention can no longer be of aid, treatment is a necessity. In terms of home remedies, treatment comes in two options: materials that can ‘calm’ the nerve in the dental pulp or materials that ‘block’ the dental tubules so stimulation cannot occur. Toothpastes that claim to ‘calm’ the nerve contain potassium nitrate, like Sensodyne Total Care F, but there is no clear evidence to prove that this mechanism of sensitivity relief works. ‘Blocking’ the tubules, however, appears to be a long-lasting and effective way of managing sensitivity. These toothpastes include Sensodyne Rapid Relief and Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief, which contain materials such as calcium carbonate or strontium acetate that are able to effectively block dentine tubules. For maximum sensitivity relief, brush with these toothpastes at least twice a day (without rinsing afterwards) and apply the paste to sensitive areas with a fingertip at night.

While these toothpastes have had much success, here are a couple of examples of treatments that your dentist can do to help ease your sensitivity:

  • Covering exposed root surfaces with filling materials
  • Applying fluoride varnishes to weakened teeth to help strengthen them

With all these options available to ease sensitivity, you needn’t suffer in silence. Speak to your dentist about this very common problem and together you can find the right treatment for you.

Posted in: Emergency Dentist, General Dentistry

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  1. Sun City Dentist July 19, 2013

    It is true that eating low acidic foods and drinks help people to prevent teeth sensitivity. As acidic foods have erosive effects so it lead to loss of mineralization which in turn causes tooth sensitivity. Therefore it is highly recommended that people must follow low acidic diet to prevent teeth sensitivity.

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