Tooth Sensitivity

Do you often experience a sudden, sharp twinge when eating or drinking certain foods? Root sensitivity or dentin hypersensitivity is a very common problem. In fact, it is estimated that about half the population suffers from sensitive teeth. It is a sudden twinge which usually occurs when you brush your teeth, drink something cold or hot and/or eat something sweet, acidic or spicy.

Tooth sensitivity happens when dentin on our root surfaces becomes exposed due to receded gums or periodontal disease(gum disease). Dentin exposure can also occur when the enamel is abraded by aggressive brushing and/or using a toothpaste that might be too abrasive. A diet rich in acidic foods like soda, pickles and citrus can also cause erosion of enamel and thus leads to the exposure of dentin.

When our teeth hurt, we tend to not brush as well and this may lead to possible tooth decay(cavity), gingivitis(gum inflammation) and possible gum disease. Pain after hot, cold, sweet or acidic food and drinks can also be a sign of a cavity or a broken tooth. In this case, a filling or other restoration will be recommended. The dental team will examine your mouth, diagnose the source of the sensitivity and help you choose the best treatment option.

Good oral hygiene can help reduce your chances of getting tooth sensitivity. It’s recommended brushing twice a per day with a soft bristle toothbrush, using a low abrasive toothpaste and flossing once a day will help reduce the incidence of gingivitis and gum recession. If you have recession, minimizing acidic foods/fruits and drinks including energy drinks will also help reduce sensitivity. Alternatively, drink through a straw. Of course some individuals have very thin gingival(gum) tissue and are genetically more prone to recession despite good oral hygiene and a healthy diet. There is also a theory of Bruxism(clenching/grinding of the teeth) that many professionals believe is a contributing factor in the battle against gum recession. When we grind our teeth this causes destructive forces to be transmitted to the teeth and the supporting structures resulting in recession. If you suffer from sensitivity you need to see a dentist to determine if the sensitivity is coming from a cavity or recession. In the majority of cases, the sensitivity is from exposure dentin secondary to gingival(gum) recession.

There are several treatment options available for sensitive teeth. Most of the dental approaches are aimed at treating sensitivity symptomatically rather than addressing the cause. For example, desensitizing over the counter toothpastes with fluoride and/or potassium nitrate that help make the teeth less sensitive and help protect against cavities. Sensodyne toothpaste is one that contains potassium nitrate. It works by depolarizing exposed nerve endings. Essentially, you merely brushing with an anesthetic and as such we do not recommend the routine use of Sensodyne except as short term therapy. We recommend the use of either a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste available from your dentist or one of the newer generations of sensitivity toothpastes either containing Novamin(Restore toothpaste) or Racaldent(MI paste). Professionally applied treatment options include paint-on fluoride varnishes and desensitizing agents that provide immediate relief by sealing the dentin tubules. In long standing cases of recession, the root surfaces becomes eroded or abraded resulting in a notch in the tooth which is usually V shaped. These notches otherwise known as abfractions should be sealed with a composite material which bonds to tooth restoring the lost tooth structure as well as sealing off the exposed dentin.

If your recession is secondary to bruxism(clenching/grinding) wearing a nightguard may be appropriate. The dentist will examine your teeth for excessive sign of tooth wear. If you have sensitivity avoid the use of whitening toothpastes as these toothpastes keep teeth whiter by using an a abrasive which can cause excessive wear of the root surface and its always prudent to use a soft toothbrush. It is important to inform your dentist and hygienist about any tooth sensitivity. The dental team will work together to give you the best treatment options to help treat your sensitivity.