of the most common dental conditions is intermittent
tooth sensitivity to temperature or touch. If
tasting ice cream, or sipping coffee makes you
wince, or if brushing or flossing causes you pain
– you likely suffer from dentinal sensitivity.
is important to make a clear distinction between
sensitive teeth and toothaches. If the pain is
great, present with or without a stimulus, or is a
recent discovery – you might be suffering from a
toothache that requires more attention than
sensitive teeth. Read our emergency section
regarding toothaches, and consult your dentist.
causes sensitive teeth?
better understand the cause of sensitivity, it is
important to see how a tooth can experience
sensation. A healthy tooth has blood vessels and
nerves running within it - a region known as the pulp.
Since it is innervated, a tooth’s pulp is
capable of experiencing all sorts of sensation,
including extreme pain. These pulp nerves run
through the dentine and cementum layers as well,
making them sensitive to temperature and touch.
with a healthy tooth, hard impermeable enamel covers the sensitive dentin layer. Likewise,
healthy gums extend up to the enamel, covering the
sensitive cementum layer that covers the tooth’s
roots. As such, a healthy tooth experiences no
sensitivity because all layers that can experience
pain are protected from outside stimuli.
sensitivity arises when the protective enamel
layer is lost and dentin is exposed, or similarly,
when the gums recede and leave the cementum
on that, the following can cause tooth
or gingival recession (your gums recede,
exposing tooth roots)
drinks that dissolve or erode the enamel on
teeth grinding or bruxism that wears teeth
too hard, or using a brush with hard bristles
that wears the enamel
whitening treatments (though it should be
disease or anything that exposes a tooth’s
decay that has eroded through the enamel and
dental filling that is leaking or placed
too close to the pulp
age – gums naturally recede and expose the
roots through time
be treated. There
several treatment options available – the best
treatment for you depends on what is causing the
dentist may suggest that you try desensitizing
toothpaste first, such as Sensodyne. They contain
chemical compounds that help block sensation
traveling from the tooth surface to the nerve and
usually require several applications before
sensitivity is reduced. Desensitizing toothpastes
are not a cure though – they act like
painkillers for your teeth – they treat the
symptoms but not the cause.
the desensitizing toothpaste does not ease your
discomfort, your dentist may suggest in-office
treatments. A fluoride gel or special
desensitizing agents may be applied to the
sensitive areas of the affected teeth.
this fails, your dentist may place a coat of
plastic sealant on the expose tooth roots to cover
and desensitize them – assuming exposed roots
are the cause of your sensitivity.
If tooth decay is the cause, a dental
filling will usually resolve the problem. If a new
dental filling was the cause of your sensitivity, your dentist will likely replace
it. If your sensitivity is from bruxism,
your dentist will construct a night guard.
dentist may suggest you visit a periodontist to
have a grafting procedure performed. Gingival
grafting raises receded gums so that they cover
any exposed roots that may be the cause of
sensitivity. This is a costly procedure that might
not solve the problem though.
if nothing is able to remove the sensitivity, your
dentist may suggest root
canal treatment be performed. Root canal
therapy involves removing the pulp (and therefore,
nerves) of the tooth so that the tooth is
incapable of feeling any
sensation. This should be the last resort.
the end, it is best to see a dentist about
sensitive teeth to determine the true nature of
the sensitivity. Treatments are plentiful and
variable, as you have surely noticed, so the
underlying cause is important in selecting the