Tooth sensitivity is largely caused by exposure of a tooth’s dentin. The enamel covering of the tooth has no nerve supply and protects the teeth from temperature and pressure changes. When dentin, which contains nerve endings, is “exposed” (most often caused by gum recession), it will let you know that it is responding to heat, cold or touch the only way that it knows how – by saying “ouch”. That “ouch” can range from a twinge to downright excruciating.
Brushing: Sometimes Too Much of a Good Thing
Recession causes vary, but a common issue is an excessive and improper brushing technique, especially for individuals with genetically thin gum tissues. Once exposed, the dentin of the root surfaces can become vulnerable to erosion by acids and irritation from sweets, primarily in the form of sugars. Worn and hard bristle toothbrushes, citrus fruits, sodas, candies and many other things can irritate dentin once exposed.
Decay, of course, can also cause the tooth sensitivity. As the destruction of decay works into the structure of a tooth, it finally invades the pulp chamber containing the nerves, increasingly irritating them and escalating the level of pain. If the nerve becomes infected and dies, the acute pain can be quite severe.
The removal of decay prior to placing a filling can lead to sensitivity. For this procedure, a dentist may typically place a lining or desensitizing material to protect the tooth from sensitivity. Even with the desensitization, the tooth may take days or weeks to completely stop hurting . As teeth age they tend to become naturally less sensitive as more dentin is laid down inside the tooth, which is called “secondary dentin”. This causes the pulp to constrict and get smaller. As a result of this process, the dentin thickens and becomes less permeable reducing sensitivity.
Taking Steps to Minimize Sensitivity
It’s important to never brush the affected teeth too hard or too often. The goal of brushing is quite simple: to remove plaque. This only requires a very gentle action with a soft brush.
Also, try using a toothpaste containing fluoride. Fluoride increases the strength of the tooth surfaces and makes them more resistant to attack by acids, sweets and excessive brushing. You should actually use the fluoride toothpaste like an ointment so that it’s in contact with the affected site in a more concentrated way and for a longer time period when brushing. There are toothpastes on the market containing potassium products for sensitivity, but studies show their effectiveness is quite variable.
Another treatment for dentin sensitivity is really aimed at applying a barrier to cover the sensitive areas. These barriers range from concentrated, professionally-applied fluoride varnishes to filling materials that are chemically bonded to cover and replace lost tooth structure.
If you have sensitive teeth, it’s important to discuss with your dentist. We would be glad to chat about your options in our dental office in Arlington, VA. Please call 703-974-7501 to schedule your comfortable and convenient appointment today!