Have you ever felt pain or discomfort after a bite of ice cream or a cup of hot coffee? If so, then it is an initial warning sign of an underlying dental problem. Pain or discomfort caused by hot or cold food is a sign of a cavity or sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity, or ‘dentin hypersensitivity’ is pain or discomfort in the teeth as a response to certain stimuli, such as hot or cold temperatures. We consulted Dr. Neetha Shenoy, Lecturer, Dept. of Conservative Dentistry and Endodontics at Manipal College of Dental Sciences, Manipal about this and according to her, this condition can range from mild tinge to more severe discomfort that can continue for several hours. It can affect a single tooth or multiple teeth and can have several different causes. This article presents to you various reasons for tooth sensitivity, its possible treatment options and also the measures to prevent sensitivity.
What causes sensitive teeth?
Enamel is the outer protective layer of the tooth. Beneath it lies the dentine which contains microscopic tubules, or channels, leading to the tooth's pulp. When the enamel is worn down, it exposes the dentine which in turn exposes the dentinal tubules. This allows heat, cold, acidic, or even sticky substances to reach the nerves inside the tooth, triggering pain.
Here are some causes of sensitivity:
- Toothbrush abrasion: Brushing too hard and brushing from side to side, can cause enamel to be worn away, particularly where the teeth meet the gums.
- Dental erosion: Enamel is worn away by the attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks that expose the dentin causing tooth sensitivity.
- Gum disease: a build-up of plaque or tartar can cause the gum to recede down the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth. Also, the receding gums can expose the root surface and cause sensitivity.
- Tooth grinding: clenching and grinding habit cause the enamel of the teeth to be worn away, making the teeth sensitive.
- A cracked tooth or filling: a cracked tooth or a broken filling too can cause sensitivity.
- Tooth bleaching: some patients have sensitivity for a short time during bleaching or afterward. Talk to your dentist about this before having treatment.
How are sensitive teeth diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, you must visit your dentist. The dentist checks the health of the teeth and looks for potential problems like cavities, loose fillings, or recessed gums that could be causing the sensitivity. Sometimes your dentist may take X-rays to rule out any cavities or other abnormalities.
How is tooth sensitivity treated?
The dentists may treat the affected teeth with special ‘desensitizing' products such as fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes to help relieve the symptoms. These can be painted onto the teeth at regular appointments one or two weeks apart, to build up some protection. If there is exposed dentin around the neck of the tooth, then the dentist may seal or fill the area where the tooth meets the gum in order to cover the exposed dentine. In very serious cases it may be necessary to root-fill the tooth. If your tooth sensitivity is mild, the dentist might prescribe you desensitizing toothpaste or mouth rinse.
Some tips to prevent tooth sensitivity
- Brushing with fluoridated toothpaste twice daily
- Flossing the teeth regularly
- Limiting the consumption of sugary and acidic foods and beverages
- Regular dental visits
A lot of us ignore signs of tooth sensitivity considering it to be less important. This gives rise to major issues like sensitivity and infections. Maintaining oral hygiene not only gives you brighter, whiter teeth but also reduces the risk of dental problems. If diagnosed and treated on time, dentin hypersensitivity or tooth sensitivity can be treated at the initial stage only.
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