Does consuming cold, hot, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages cause you pain? If so, you may be suffering from tooth sensitivity. Sometimes known as root sensitivity or dentin hypersensitivity, tooth sensitivity affects nearly 50 percent of the global population making it one of the most common complaints among dental patients.
This condition may come and go over time, but what causes it?
In this article, we’ll look at what causes dentin hypersensitivity, as well as its symptoms, prevention, and treatment.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Sensitive teeth can result from several oral health issues, but the three most common causes are:
- Enamel erosion
Enamel is the first line of defense your teeth have against cold, hot, sticky, and abrasive substances. This enamel can weaken as a result of exposure to sugary or acidic foods, age, or a history of acid re-flux disease.
Weak enamel can wear down with time, resulting in tooth decay, which in turn exposes sensitive nerves within the pulp.
Cracks and crevices in your teeth can expose sensitive nerves. In fact, sensitivity to cold and hot is usually a warning of a developing cavity and a sure sign it’s time to take action. Fillings that repair cavities may also become loose or fall out, resulting in sensitivity in the underlying cavity.
- Receding Gums
Beneath enamel, there’s another material called dentin, which also coats your teeth. Dentin is more sensitive and features tiny tubes that make teeth more vulnerable to hypersensitivity.
When gums recede, the dentin is exposed causing pain. Receding gums are generally a side effect of gingivitis or gum disease.
Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity
If your tooth has been extremely sensitive for at least three days and reacts to cold and hot temperature, it is advisable to get a diagnostic evaluation from your dentist.
This will help you determine the severity of the problem and get the most effective treatment. Pain symptoms can be similar, and without proper diagnosis, you might confuse a developing cavity for a sensitive tooth.
What You Can Do to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
You can reduce root sensitivity by:
- Using a desensitizing toothpaste
- Decreasing your intake of acid-containing foods
- Avoid using tartar-control toothpaste, which sometimes causes teeth to be sensitive
- Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes. Also, don’t brush your teeth too hard. These practices can wear down the surface of your teeth, exposing sensitive spots.
- Avoid drinking soft drinks as they are also known to cause sensitivity.
Treating Tooth Sensitivity
Dentists have various remedies for managing dentin hypersensitivity. These could be in-office treatments or patient-applied medications for home use.
If you do receive a diagnosis of root sensitivity, your dentist may apply a protective coating or a desensitizing agent. They may also prescribe a stannous fluoride gel or an over-the-counter toothpaste that contains fluoride and either strontium chloride or potassium nitrate.
These ingredients are effective in blocking the transmission of sensation from tooth to nerve. Other dental procedures that could mitigate tooth hypersensitivity include:
- Bonding, crowns, or inlays, which can fix a tooth problem that is causing sensitivity
- Surgical gum graft, which protects the root and minimizes sensitivity if the gum tissue erodes from the root
- A root canal should only be used to treat sensitivity if all other options have failed.