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Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth are usually caused by exposed dentin, the layer next to the enamel. A lot of things can cause dentin to be exposed. One of the most common is improper tooth brushing method. Too much pressure applied during tooth brushing using a hard bristled toothbrush causes abrasion on the enamel layer, exposing the dentin layer beneath it. The most common example of this is cervical abrasions, found in the “neck” portion of the tooth’s crown. The tooth can also be bruised or abraded from dental instruments, especially after a restorative procedure. Accidental biting on hard substances can also bruise the tooth. Tooth sensitivity can also occur because of exposure of the root portion of the tooth due to gingival recession. Pain from sensitive teeth is not always constant. It can come and go. Constant pain could be a sign of a more serious problem. It is important to discuss your symptoms with your dentist to determine the cause and proper treatment.

Hypersensitivity affects 45 million adults in the United States, 10 million are chronically affected. Tooth sensitivity is tooth discomfort that can occur after eating cold or hot foods, liquids, or even breathing cold air.  This problem often happens when gums recede. The gum tissue acts like a protective blanket to cover the roots of the teeth.  As the gums recede the underlying tooth roots are exposed.  They are not covered by hard enamel.  Thousands of tiny dentinal tubules (channels) leading to the tooth’s nerve center (pulp) are then exposed.  These tubules allow more stimuli like heat, cold or pressure to reach the nerve in the tooth and you feel pain. Think of your gums and the enamel on your teeth as a down comforter covering and protecting your body from the cool winter air.

There are many other causes, some of which can require a more comprehensive treatment plan…

  • Broken, chipped or fractured teeth
  • Nerve damage in the root
  • Grinding and/or clenching the teeth
  • Gum disease
  • Receding gums, gum disease and/or oral habits

The key to preventing tooth sensitivity is to keep your gums healthy by reducing the pressure you use while brushing and to maintain good oral health habits.  This means brushing all your teeth for 2-3 minutes, not the usual 30- 45 seconds that most people brush. Flossing is crucial in order to reach 35% of the tooth surfaces where brushing cannot reach.

Sensitive teeth are one of the most common complaints among dental patients. If the bristles on your toothbrush are pointing in multiple directions, you’re brushing too hard. If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days, and reacts to hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to get a diagnostic evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. Before taking the situation into your own hands, an accurate diagnosis of tooth sensitivity is essential for effective treatment to eliminate pain. Because pain symptoms can be similar, some people might think that a tooth is sensitive, when instead, they actually have a cavity or abscess that’s not yet visible.