Sensitive teeth are very common, according to the American Dental Association. The ADA estimates that over 40 percent of adults suffer from tooth sensitivity, and experience pain when eating hot or cold foods, or foods that are too sweet. Many patients that suffer from tooth sensitivity manage their symptoms by avoiding foods that trigger pain or use over the counter toothpaste and rinses designed to help reduce sensitive teeth. Dentists treat tooth sensitivity, and patients with the condition should report their symptoms to their provider for further investigation – as their symptoms could be evidence of a more serious condition.
When the dentin of the teeth becomes exposed as a result of injury or tooth decay, the nerve endings of the tooth are also uncovered. This causes the teeth to become extremely sensitive to temperature and textures.
Another cause of tooth sensitivity is root exposure, which happens when gums recede as a result of periodontal disease, infections, smoking and tobacco use and the use of some medications. There are also genetic and medical conditions that cause gum recession, as well. When the roots of the tooth become exposed, chewing and even tooth brushing becomes difficult. Root exposure also happens as a result of improper brushing practices, like being heavy-handed or brushing too long in one area that wears away the gum tissue.
Tooth sensitivity also stems from the erosion or thinning of the hard, protective enamel as a result of acid. Diets high in acidic foods and drinks contribute to acid erosion, but the acid in the mouth often develops as a result of poor dental hygiene. Acid is a by-product of bacteria breaking down food particles that are left behind on the teeth from improper brushing and flossing, or from skipping brushing and flossing altogether.
The sensitive response of the teeth occurs when a stimulus, like cold, touches the dentin. The dentin is made up of tiny, fluid-filled tubes. The fluid in these tiny tubes moves against nerve endings found in the dentin in when aggravated by the stimulus. This movement is what causes the pain response.
"Patients with tooth sensitivity often think that their condition is just a normal part of life," says Dr. Steven P. Rodgers, D.M.D, a Grant’s Pass, Oregon, dentist. "As a result, they just avoid cold or hot foods, or avoid crunchy foods or whatever their trigger is," he explains.
But patients don’t have to live with tooth sensitivity, says Rogers. "It is a treatable condition," he says. The first step to getting tooth sensitivity treated is to visit a dentist to make sure there is not something more serious happening to the teeth – like tooth decay or cavities. During a checkup, the dentist will look for areas of decay that could cause tooth sensitivity and form a treatment plan for restoration.
After identifying areas of concern, the dentist will treat areas of sensitivity by using desensitizing agents that keep the tubules in the dentin from being stimulated. Many patients experience a reduction in pain or go completely pain-free for several months after application. "After treatment, a dental provider may also recommend that the patient use a daily desensitizing toothpaste or mouth rinse," says Rogers.
There are also many over the counter kinds of toothpaste and rinses to help patients reduce their tooth sensitivity, but some serious cases require prescription interventions.
Patients can reduce their risk developing tooth sensitivity by avoiding foods and drinks high in acid. They should also discuss their brushing techniques with their dentist in order to make sure that they are not doing damage that would cause tooth sensitivity. Proper and regular brushing techniques will also help to prevent tooth decay and cavities.