Did you know that 1 out of 8 Americans is affected by tooth sensitivity? Tooth sensitivity is a sudden painful sensation that occurs when eating or drinking anything that is cold, hot, or very sweet. The sensation can range from being a minor annoyance to being extremely painful. For some, tooth sensitivity can even cause them to make dietary changes as a way of preventing pain. With summer around the corner, this unfortunately means that people with tooth sensitivity may not be able to enjoy cool summer treats.
There are various different causes of tooth sensitivity, and some are more serious than others. Tooth sensitivity can be a symptom of:
- Tooth decay
- Gum recession/gum disease
- Damaged dental restoration
- Pulp infection
- Fractured tooth
Since tooth sensitivity can be a symptom of the above dental conditions, it is important that you tell your dentist when you have sensitive teeth so they can determine if any of these conditions are present. Some cases of tooth sensitivity can be completely resolved by simply treating the main condition.
However, not all cases of tooth sensitivity are caused by dental conditions. In some cases, tooth sensitivity may simply be the result of worn enamel. Your tooth enamel can wear down for many reasons such as brushing too hard, eating acidic foods, and grinding your teeth. Once your enamel wears down, it causes the underlying dentin layer to be exposed. Dentin is the porous layer that lies between your enamel and the pulp layer, which houses the tooth nerve. Since dentin is porous, stimuli can travel through it to reach the tooth nerve and cause irritation.
To treat tooth sensitivity, your dentist will first determine the cause. As mentioned before, if the cause of your sensitivity is due to a specific dental condition, then the treatment will consist of treating that condition. However, if your tooth sensitivity is due to worn enamel, then your dentist may recommend the following treatments to help alleviate symptoms:
There are a variety of over the counter sensitivity toothpastes designed specifically for people with sensitive teeth. They differ from regular toothpaste because they are often free from sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is an ingredient that can irritate the teeth and make sensitivity worse. In addition, sensitivity toothpaste contains ingredients that help fill in the dentin layer to protect the tooth nerve. These ingredients include potassium nitrate, strontium chloride, and stannous fluoride. There are also prescription toothpastes that your dentist can recommend.
Along with special toothpaste, your dentist may also recommend using desensitizers on the surface of your teeth. One common desensitizer is the fluoride varnish your dentist brushes on your teeth after your semi annual cleanings. Regular fluoride treatments help strengthen the enamel and decrease sensitivity symptoms. Other desensitizers such as oxalate or Gluma may also be used to manage tooth sensitivity.
In cases where there is significant enamel wear or gum recession along the gum line, your dentist may recommend a cervical restoration. Cervical restorations are usually made by bonding composite resin to the surface of your teeth in order to cover areas of exposed dentin along the gum line. They help to decrease tooth sensitivity by acting as the outer protective layer.
Dr. Martin is a highly skilled dentist of 16 years, and a graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry. During this time, he has placed over 500 implants and maintains his skills by taking more CE courses than required by the State Board each year.