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Tooth Sensitivity

What is meant by tooth sensitivity?

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Tooth Sensitivity explained

Dr Sarah explains everything you need to know
about tooth sensitivity 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.

Why do teeth get sensitive?

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.

What causes a tooth to become sensitive?

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.

What is the common tooth sensitivity treatment?

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.

Finding a dentist on AirSmile that treats tooth sensitivity

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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 or download the app on both Apple and Android.  Sign-up is as easy as entering a valid email address and setting a password.  Now you’ve got a secure portal to manage and access all your dental needs.  Click on BOOK and select ‘check-up’.  Find a dentist who you feel best matches what you believe is important to have caring for your mouth and book your first visit in minutes.

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Get even more savvy with our FAQ'S

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

WE'RE DENTAL.. BUT HELPFUL.. BUT CLEVER..

Tooth sensitivity is a transient, moderate pain that affects the teeth when the protective enamel layer is worn or chipped away and the delicate area is exposed to a change in temperature (hot or cold).

Any problem that causes the enamel to wear or dissolve, exposing the underlying sensitive dentin. Examples include decay, acidic diet or oral environment, trauma, erosion, tooth grinding and vigorous brushing.

Yes, in most cases, with the right application of products that help strengthen the layers of the exposed tooth causing the symptom of sensitivity, tooth sensitivity can be reduced to a manageable state where the person can go about their daily life without fear of experiencing discomfort or pain from their teeth.  To prevent tooth sensitivity from returning it may require a change in lifestyle habits, more regular professional teeth cleaning, and daily use of oral products recommended to you by your dentist or dental professional.

No, sensitivity could happen without cavitation, such as with chipping, grinding or the stripping of the tooths outer layer from poor brushing technique or an acidic diet.

None. Tooth sensitivity is a physical problem where the enamel is no longer present to protect the dentin. It has nothing to do with vitamins.

In some cases, the pain is so severe, or the part of the enamel lost is too much. In those cases, a root canal could be needed to save you from the pain, as well as gain enough tooth structure to place a protective crown.

You can’t repair it on your own. Your dentist can rebuild it using fillings or crowns.

The daily use of oral products such as sensitive repair toothpastes and gels is often the quickest, cheapest and most effective way to rid yourself of the discomfort of tooth sensitivity at home.  A dental professional can also place a high strength varnish on the area that will give you around six months of relief.  Repairing the damaged tooth with a filling or crown is needed in more severe tooth sensitivity cases.

The pain from cavities is usually related to sweets and sugars, while that of sensitivity is usually related to hot and cold stimuli. However, that is not always accurate, and any pain you feel should be investigated and diagnosed by your dentist.

After the teeth erupt in the oral cavity, nothing you can do can strengthen it, but you can make sure no harm comes to it through maintaining a good diet and great oral hygiene measures. As for the gums, foods rich in protein as well as a salt water rinse every now and then could shield you from a variety of gum problems.

No. The most effected topical application to help relieve tooth sensitivity is specially formed toothpastes and gels that can be purchased in stores or recommended by your dentist to purchase over the counter at a pharmacy.

Your finger is usually a little colder or hotter than your mouth. That change of temperature could be the cause of that sensitivity.  Teeth that are tender to pressure may indicate other underlying conditions that my result in a tooth emergency and therefore you should have this looked at by your dentist as soon as possible.  Healthy teeth should not feel tender to touch.

Sensitivity usually cannot be directly cured, but can be controlled when the cause of the problem is removed, and a suitable topical application is introduced into your daily oral hygiene regimen or permanently covered over by your dentist with a tooth filling or crown.

A chipped, worn or damaged enamel looks like a broken glass or crystal. However, in most cases, you could not see that damaged part with your own eyes, and a dentist is better equipped to diagnose the problem.

That depends on what treatment is provided. Enamel strengthening products and pastes are relatively cheap ($5 – $15) however they do require daily use to maintain its effectiveness.  

If a filling is required to permanently repair the tooth structure this could be between $100 – $300, while a crown could reach up to $2000.

Any pain, big or small, is a clear indication to head to the dentist as soon as you can.  Your teeth and mouth should never feel sensitive, painful or sore.

Tooth Sensitivity

The description of a sensitive tooth is a tooth that hurts when exposed to hot and cold foods and drinks – and sometimes cold air when breathing in. The pain is transient, lasting only a few seconds, but it is significant enough to make you take notice.

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