:Tooth sensitivity is something most people are likely to experience at some point in their lives. Whether the tooth is sensitive to hot, cold or biting, it can be unpleasant and uncomfortable, and this is where your dentist can help.
Potential Causes Of Tooth Sensitivity
There are several potential causes of tooth sensitivity. Some are easily treated, whilst others may require more involved, ongoing care.
Something that can be treated reasonably simply is toothbrush abrasion. This occurs when a person scrubs their teeth too vigorously, especially with a hard or medium toothbrush. Over time, this can cause the gums to shrink and the protective layer of enamel to be abraded away, causing sensitivity in the affected teeth due to exposure of dentine.
Increasingly more prevalent in Australia is the issue of acid-induced sensitivity, which may come from a number of sources.
Why Acids Are A Threat To Tooth Enamel
In a healthy tooth, a layer of enamel covers the entire part of the tooth that appears above the gum. Tooth enamel is a mineralised structure with no nerve endings in it. Being a mineral, enamel will dissolve under the influence of acids. Fortunately, we don’t tend to encounter very strong acids in our daily life. However, there are two very important sources of organic acids to be aware of:
- dietary acids
- stomach acids.
An abundant source of dietary acid is acidic drinks: soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks. Frequent consumption of these erodes tooth enamel. Over time, the enamel becomes thinner and gradually exposes the part of the tooth that contains nerve endings. This part of the tooth is made up of another hard substance called dentine. As dentine erodes, the fine nerve endings are exposed, often leading to significant sensitivity.
Another source of acid that can erode the teeth comes from the stomach. People who experience reflux are at risk of developing tooth sensitivity. Additionally, pregnant women and people who are living with bulimia are also at risk.
Sometimes patients wake up in the morning with a sour taste in their mouth. They may not realise that this may be acid reflux which can cause dental issues such as tooth sensitivity. In cases such as these, the dentist may refer the patient back to their GP for assessment and if required management of their gastric reflux (often known as heartburn).
Gum Recession Can Lead To Sensitive Teeth
If a patient has gum disease or any other condition that causes gum recession, exposure of the dentine at the neck of the tooth can lead to sensitivity. Teeth might become quite sensitive to cold foods, but can also be stirred up by hot and sweet foods. Gum disease is a silent disease and people often do not know they have it until they are told by a dentist, or they may only realise when it is too late and their teeth become mobile (and can even fall out). This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have regular check-ups with your dentist so that early stages of gum disease can be diagnosed and managed..
More Concerning Reasons For Tooth Sensitivity
There are other causes of tooth sensitivity that are not so easily identified. Sensitivity can be caused by a cracked tooth, tooth decay, or it could be because you have previously had a deep cavity in the tooth and the nerves have been affected. This type of sensitivity can appear years after the filling was placed, and may be a signal that the nerve has never fully recovered, despite the decay having been removed from the tooth.
Treating Tooth Sensitivity
So, how can tooth sensitivity be treated?
First, A Diagnosis…
Since there are many causes of tooth sensitivity, there are many treatments that might be recommended. It is therefore critical that an accurate diagnosis is made. If you make an appointment for attention to a sensitive tooth or teeth, your dentist will usually ask you a number of questions to help work out what might be causing the problem. You will be asked what causes the sensitivity, how long it lasts, what relieves it and whether anything happened to trigger the sensitivity.
Then the dentist will examine your mouth, teeth and gums thoroughly and might need to take radiographs to look even deeper.
…Then The Treatment
Treatment may include:
- the application of desensitising agents
- changing the way you brush
- using a softer toothbrush
- management of night-time tooth grinding
- treatment of gum disease
- placement of a filling to treat dental decay
- placement of a crown to manage a cracked tooth
- root canal treatment to treat an infected tooth, or
- extraction (in the case of a deeply cracked tooth)
People will sometimes choose to treat sensitivity by using a desensitising toothpaste, bought over the counter or at supermarkets. However, if the discomfort does not improve relatively quickly (within two weeks of use is a good indicator), the cause of the sensitivity could be more sinister and professional treatment may be required urgently.
We Are Here To Help
If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity that doesn’t settle with desensitising toothpastes, gets worse or has accompanying symptoms, please feel free to contact us. Whilst there may be a simple reason for your tooth sensitivity, it may also be due to something quite significant so it is best to get your dentist to have a look at the problem sooner rather than later.