Ever notice that washing down ice cream with hot coffee results in fleeting pain? That is normal sensitivity. However, it should not hurt to inhale on a winter day or drink an ice tea on a hot summer day. Similarly, chewing gum should not cause pain, nor should eating a piece of chocolate. Let’s examine some causes of sensitive teeth and some possible remedies.
First, it is important to know the anatomy of teeth. There are three basic layers. The innermost layer is the pulp. The pulp is inside the root canal, which contains blood vessels, connective tissue and the nerve of the tooth. The middle layer is the dentin. Dentin is about the same hardness as bone. Pores run through the dentin from the pulp to the outer surface. Cells inside the pores are responsible for sensing cold. Enamel covers the part of the tooth that is normally visible, the crown. Healthy enamel insulates the rest of the tooth from mild sensations of heat, cold, sweet and sour.
Most people with sensitive teeth will believe that they have a cavity. That is possible. Small to moderate cavities will cause teeth to be sensitive to cold and to sweet flavors. The treatment is to see a dentist to treat small decay with a filling or larger decay with root canal treatment and a crown or extraction.
Gum recession will cause mild to moderate sensitivity. Loss of gum tissue occurs as a result of brushing too hard, gum disease or age. The simplest treatment for mild sensitivity due to a small amount of gum loss is using a desensitizing toothpaste. Regular fluoride applications will both strengthen and desensitize teeth. Look for a high concentration fluoride paste. Use this kind of toothpaste in place of your usual toothpaste. Use desensitizing toothpaste for about a month, then once or twice a week to maintain the effect. High-concentration fluoride paste may replace regular toothpaste once or twice a day.
Dentists correct more severe gum loss with surgery. There are many techniques to move gum tissue to cover exposed tooth root surface. This is the most natural and long lasting treatment for gum loss.
Loss of enamel is another common cause of sensitivity. Eating causes slow enamel loss. Don’t worry. Under normal circumstances there is enough enamel to last for a lifetime. Unfortunately, some people grind their teeth excessively. Enamel will not stand up to this for long. The simple solution is to wear a mouth guard to prevent the teeth from contacting each other. More serious grinding will require attention from a dentist with experience in restoring the way teeth should bite together.
Another common cause for loss of enamel is tooth brushing. OK, tooth brushing is an effective way to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. Regrettably, many brush too hard or use a hard toothbrush. When brushing, be thorough but be gentle.
Similarly, Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease or GERD causes enamel loss. GERD occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach regularly travel up the esophagus as far as the mouth. Acid from eating large quantities of lemons and limes or drinking soda will do the same. Acid softens and dissolves enamel causing sensitivity and decay.
Dentists treat loss of enamel using bonding techniques (applying plastic and glass material using special adhesives) or by completely covering and rebuilding the teeth with crowns.
If you have sensitive teeth, speak with your dentist. The dentist will diagnose the cause of the sensitivity and recommend reasonable treatments.
Dr. David Leader is a copywriter for Yodle Local, a business directory and online advertising company. Find more teeth whitening tips and info at local.yodle.com/articles.