I am frequently told throughout the day by patients that their teeth are sensitive. Many have felt this way for years, and others have just begun to experience this phenomenon.
“My teeth are sensitive to cold!”
“Sometimes they hurt when I brush.”
“When I bite and chew I feel sensitivity!”
These are all comments that chime through my office walls.
So, let’s discuss the possible causes for tooth sensitivity, address some of these symptoms and provide some treatment approaches to help in this epidemic.
According to the AGD, Academy of General Dentistry, approximately 45 million Americans suffer and/or experience some kind of dental sensitivity. This tooth pain is described as a tingly feeling or a flash pinch of pain affecting an individual tooth or many. Some pain is intermittent and others constant. This sensitivity can occur when eating hot or cold foods or drinking various beverages, or just when cold air hits it.
What is causing this pain? Well, there are a variety of potential factors. However, in the scope of our article today I will address three: 1) enamel erosion 2) gum recession and 3) fractured teeth.
Enamel erosion is the wearing down of the outer tooth layer, enamel, which serves as our protective armor on our teeth. Once that outer layer is worn away, your under layers of dentin and cementum are exposed (it depends what part of the tooth is in discussion). These under layers are inherently sensitive areas that are sensitive and don’t like to be exposed to the outside world (like your under layers of skin). Enamel erosion frequently is a result of acidic food and drinks. These include sodas, citrus, wine and teas/coffee. All in frequency will contribute to the shedding of tooth enamel over time. After eating or drinking an acidic substance, you should....all my avid readers know this answer....Yes, “chase it with water!”
Tooth grinding, bruxism, will also contribute to sensitivity, wearing away the enamel on the top biting surface. In addition, vigorous tooth brushing may cause enamel loss and dentin exposure. Brushing your teeth hard with a firm brush is not necessary to clean your mouth. So, consider a softer brush and go gentle. The goal is to clean your mouth, not scrub it.
Gum recession is a big problem. For some its genetic, and others it comes with age. Yes, I’m sorry, I said it: age. They say, as we get older, “everything goes south!” Well, in the mouth, this happens to your gums. They tend to ride down your tooth and expose the root surface, like a collar exposing your neck, making it cold. Without this collar of gum covering, and enamel as a protectant, the result is sensitivity. Many times these areas can either be professionally desensitized or bonded to replace what was lost. This procedure will reduce sensitivity and strengthen your tooth for the future.
Frequently when pain is felt during chewing or biting, this is the sign of a chipped or fractured tooth. Now, it may just be a cavity, a broken old filling or an actual fracture in the crown (top) of the tooth or even the root. All these possibilities will create these symptoms. Don’t ignore this, because by replacing a filling or crown today it may prevent you from a root canal or extraction tomorrow. As Benjamin Franklin taught us, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In the end, if you are one suffering from any of the above symptoms or causes of dental sensitivity, you are not alone. Sensitive toothpastes, rinses and treatments alone is a multi-million-dollar market. So, see your dentist and determine the true nature of your problem. There may be a solution that can eliminate or at least prevent further progression or damage in the future. There are great advances in treatments and products that truly make a difference in patients.
So stop saying “I have sensitive teeth!” and just live with it. Find out why, and get on the road to a more comfortable smile.
Have a great summer!
By Dr. Brian M. Kalb