If eating cold foods or drinking hot beverages cause your teeth to hurt, you probably have sensitive teeth. In the US, a study revealed that about 40 million adults have sensitive teeth.
The common question among many ‘sufferers’ is what causes this uncomfortable and prevalent problem? First, a diagnosis must start with your dentist. But we will describe the origin and the most likely causes of this condition.
The origin of dentin hypersensitivity
The innermost part of the tooth is mainly made up of a living material known as dentin. It contains microscopic tubules that are rich in tiny nerve endings. The harder outer layer which we see is the enamel, and it protects the dentine inside the tooth crown. The dentine extends further, down to the root and is protected by the cementum.
According to dentists, discomfort is caused by dentine hypersensitivity or nerve irritation. This occurs when the protective covering (enamel or cementum) over the dentine wears away, therefore exposing the sensitive nerve endings to cold, hot, sticky or acidic foods. And it hurts!
Causes of sensitive teeth
What makes your dentine exposed? The following dental issues may be the reason:
- Using a hard toothbrush and aggressively scrubbing away at your teeth can cause the tooth enamel to wear away.
- If you take a lot of acidic foods such as pickles, coffee, strong citrus fruits; they can erode your teeth.
- Other things like broken teeth and worn leaky fillings can expose your dentin
- Receded gums can expose the root surface to wear
- People who grind their teeth habitually are also prone to sensitive teeth
- Post dental treatment sensitivity- This common but fleeting condition usually occurs after a procedure such as crown filling or tooth bleach. However, it soon repairs itself.
Preliminary dental treatment
The first thing to do when you discover you have sensitive teeth is visit a dentist. Describe your situation because, while you may experience symptoms for sensitive teeth, it may be attributed to a different ailment. Also, indicate if there is anything that provides relief such as applying warm compresses.
Your dentist may perform further tests to determine the cause of your sensitivity, after which he or she will treat the preliminary cause. The mistake most people make is to provide relief for their discomfort without seeking and correcting the origin of the problem. Therefore, a dentist’s solution is important.
Treatment may be as simple as fitting a cavity or changing a worn filling. If the sensitivity is because of worn gums, the dentist can suggest a gum graft by a periodontist.
Using desensitising products
Sometimes, there might be no clear reason for your pain. If this is the case, there are several treatments to help you cope with your sensitivity. Many brands of toothpastes such as Sensodyne and Colgate contain NovaMin which builds a hydroxyapatite-like layer above and within the exposed dentine tubules. They restore the dentine and provide clinically-proven relief. If you are experiencing similar discomfort, instead of self-medicating, see a dentist today.