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Teeth sensitivity explained

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What is tooth sensitivity?

Dr Sarah explains everything you need to know
about tooth sensitivity and its treatment at the dentist

When your teeth hurt from hot and cold foods and drinks or even cold air, you are considered to be suffering from tooth sensitivity. In some cases, the reason for tooth sensitivity is very obvious, and therefore very easy to treat, but that is not true in all cases.

Some patients who complain of sensitivity have no visible signs or known cause for the discomfort or pain, and that can make treatment somewhat difficult.

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How is tooth sensitivity treated?

How is tooth sensitivity treated?

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The main treatment is removing the root cause of the problem. Decayed teeth should be filled to both remove the bacteria and their toxins, and protect the exposed dentin. Chipped enamel due to trauma – if it is significant enough to expose the dentin – should be fixed either with a filling or a crown. Erosion and attrition must be stopped, by changing the diet, controlling the systemic illness and trying to halt the tooth grinding before attempting to repair and rebuild the lost enamel, and finally, the brushing technique must be corrected to avoid further damage.

Why should tooth sensitivity be treated?

Cheap and easy

No pain

Preventative

Restores function

Safe solution

Quick results

Why should tooth sensitivity be treated?
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Learn more about tooth sensitivity.

Understanding your condition is the
key to making the right choices for you 

Our teeth are formed of many layers. The outermost layer is known as the enamel. It is a very strong layer composed mainly of minerals (such as calcium and fluoride) and doesn’t have any nerves or sensitive parts in it. That layer is responsible for protecting the rest of the tooth from the stimuli present inside the oral cavity, meaning when that layer is strong and intact, you can eat, drink and chew safely with no pain or sensitivity. When that layer gets chipped away or broken (the reasons for that are numerous as we’ll discuss later), the layer beneath (known as the dentin) it is exposed, and these are full of nerves that can sense pain from hot and cold stimuli.

So in short, a tooth sensitive to cold is a tooth whose enamel is no longer there or is damaged, exposing the sensitive dentin underneath.

As we mentioned, tooth sensitivity is mainly caused by chipping away of the enamel. This can happen due to:

  1. Decay: 

    Decay is the main reason for most problems that occur in the mouth, tooth sensitivity included. When decay affects a tooth, it causes pain due to two main problems: 

    a. The bacteria and their toxins and acids that seep into the lower layers of the tooth causing pain.

    b. The enamel is dissolved by the action of these bacteria, exposing the dentin to the hot and cold stimuli that enter the mouth.
  2. Trauma: 

    Trauma does not necessarily mean a blow or an accident, as trauma that could cause enamel chipping can be due to biting down accidentally on a hard object. When there is an unnoticed seed in the middle of your food, it could cause a concentration of force on the hard – but brittle – enamel, chipping away a part of that protective layer. In some cases, the chip can be small, where the dentin is not exposed, and in that case you would feel nothing except a sharp edge due to that chipping. On the other hand, if the chip is significant, the dentin is exposed, and you would start to feel sudden tooth sensitivity.

  3. Acidic diet or oral environment: 

    People with a diet high in sugar and acid can cause the teeth to become hypersensitive to temperature over time as it strips away the hard protective layer of the tooth, the enamel.  The saliva and mouth itself can also become an acidic environment from conditions like reflux, constant vomiting causing stomach acid washing over the teeth (pregnancy and eating disorders) and medications changing the flora of the mouth and body.

  4. Erosion and attrition: 

    Erosion is a chemical reaction causing the dissolving of the enamel. It happens when you consume a large amount of acidic foods and drinks such as oranges and limes. It could also happen due to a problem with your digestive system (such as reflux disorders) causing continuous contact between the acids of the stomach and the enamel, eventually leading to its dissolution and exposure of the dentin.

    Attrition works in a similar way, but it is due to physical rather than chemical wear of the enamel. The most famous example of attrition affecting the teeth is when you grind and mash your teeth together. On the long run, this wears away the enamel, and you would start feel the sensitivity.
  5. Improper brushing: 

    This is the most common reason for teeth sensitivity on front teeth. While most people take care of their oral hygiene, few know the proper way to do so. The continuous back and forth movement across the front of the tooth is a very dangerous way of brushing, and if done continuously and vigorously could not only damage the gums, but wear away the teeth as well. Eventually, sensitivity of the front teeth follows.

  6. Unknown causes:

    Unfortunately, many teeth sensitivity cases have no apparent cause. It gets really frustrating for patients and dentists alike. These can mostly be attributed to spaces between the teeth which trap food, and are also exposed to the cold and hot stimuli.
  1. The main treatment is removing the root cause of the problem. Decayed teeth should be filled to both remove the bacteria and their toxins, and protect the exposed dentin. Chipped enamel due to trauma – if it is significant enough to expose the dentin – should be fixed either with a filling or a crown. Erosion and attrition must be stopped, by changing the diet, controlling the systemic illness and trying to halt the tooth grinding before attempting to repair and rebuild the lost enamel, and finally, the brushing technique must be corrected to avoid further damage.

    The main problem happens when the cause isn’t there to remove. In these cases, a strong toothpaste with a high Fluoride content, as well as a Fluoridated mouthwash could be of great help. The Fluoride coats the exposed dentin in a thin layer, shielding it from the hot and cold.

    In essence, there is no direct cure for sensitive teeth, but with the correct diagnosis and removal of the root cause (if it existed) the situation could be effectively controlled.

Experiencing tooth sensitivity can affect individuals every day of their life.  There are solutions to fix tooth sensitivity, mild or severe, and our expert dentists on AirSmile know just what to do.  When you book a new patient consultation with one of our dentist partners, you’ll experience a comprehensive evaluation of the condition of your teeth and be shown ways to help minimize the causes and effects of tooth sensitivity, and other tooth related conditions that may be impacting on the quality of your life.

To find an AirSmile dentist to discuss your needs with, simply join AirSmile for FREE online.

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