Tooth sensitivity is a sharp, transient pain that occurs in response to external stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet, or sour food and drinks. It is one of the most common causes of toothaches. It usually occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. In recent years, researchers noticed increased tooth sensitivity in young patients and linked it to the over-consumption of acidic drinks and unsupervised use of teeth whitening products. Tooth sensitivity can be a temporary or chronic problem and it can affect single tooth, several teeth, or all teeth. Tooth sensitivity has many causes, including dental erosion, tooth decay, cracked tooth or filling, or gum disease.
Origin of Tooth Sensitivity
To understand how tooth sensitivity occurs, you must become familiar with the structure of the tooth. Tooth crown is the visible part of the tooth (above the gumline). Tooth root is the part sitting in the jawbone (below the gumline). The tooth consist of 3 layers. From outside to inside: enamel or cementum, dentin, and pulp. The enamel protects the tooth crown and the cementum protects the tooth root. The dentin is the second layer of the tooth and it surrounds the pulp which contains nerves and blood vessels.
The dentin contains thousands of fine tubules (dentinal tubules) that contain sensitive nerve endings. When the tooth loses its protective layer (enamel or cementum) because of tooth decay or dental erosion, the dentinal tubules become exposed, causing pain in response to external stimuli such as hot, cold, sour, or sweet food and drinks. The result is tooth sensitivity.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
There are a number of situations that cause the loss of the tooth protective layer (enamel or cementum). As a result, the dentinal tubules become exposed and tooth sensitivity occur. Tooth sensitivity is often related to the patient’s lifestyle and daily oral hygiene:
- Following the wrong tooth brushing technique and using a toothbrush with hard bristles.
- Excessive consumption of acidic drinks such as lemon juice and soft drinks.
- Bruxism and nail-biting.
- Tooth decay.
- Gum disease (gum recession).
- Overuse of tooth whitening products.
- Medical conditions such as Bulimia and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity causes an intense pain or discomfort as a response to external stimuli. For example, cold and hot drinks, cold air, acidic beverages, sweets, acidic-based mouthwashes, and tooth brushing.
Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity
First, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible if you have sensitive teeth, to determine the underlying cause. The treatment of tooth sensitivity consists of preventive measures and treatment measures.
The following measures are recommended for prevention and to relieve symptoms if you already have tooth sensitivity.
- Follow the right brushing and flossing technique.
- Use a desensitizing toothpaste.
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks.
- Avoid parafunctional habits such as bruxism and nail-biting.
- Consult your dentist before the use of tooth-whitening products.
- Visit your dentist to treat existing dental conditions such as gum disease and tooth decay.
Once your dentist has found the underlying cause. He/She may recommend:
- Scaling and root planing, in the case of mild gum recession.
- Surgical gum graft, in the case of severe gum recession.
- Tooth fillings, if tooth decay is the trigger.
- Bonding resin to cover the exposed root surface.
- Root canal treatment, if the pain is severe and other treatments are not effective.