When it comes to our teeth, we are just all big softies inside. That is because, despite having a tough layer of enamel to protect the tooth, the inside is actually filled with pulp or soft tissue. Unfortunately, this softness on the inside can sometimes cause us to experience a great level of discomfort and pain when consuming hot or cold food or beverages. This condition is referred to as dentine hypersensitivity, or more commonly sensitive teeth.
Sensitive teeth can be caused by a range of factors, however, one of the most prevalent reasons is due to the erosion of the enamel that protects the tooth. This tooth enamel, is your bodies protective layer over the tooth preventing the nerve endings inside from being directly exposed. Technically, this layer under the enamel, which is significantly less dense, is called dentin and contains microscopic canals which are called dentin tubules. When the protective barrier of enamel is partially, or even completely eroded or worn away, your teeth will become more sensitive to hot and cold drinks and food which flows into the tubules and affects the nerve endings. You may also experience this sensitivity when eating sweet or sour food and in some cases, even breathing in cold air through your mouth may cause discomfort.
The erosion of the enamel is unfortunately not the only way in which tooth sensitivity can occur. Gum disease is another common cause of sensitive teeth, particularly when the gum line has started to or is receded, exposing the roots of your teeth. These areas are not 'protected' in the same way as the other normally visible areas of the tooth. This gum disease may be caused by poor oral hygiene practices, which can also lead to tooth decay or dental caries, another possible cause of sensitive teeth.
Naturally, any physical trauma to a tooth can also cause it to become sensitive. For example, if no mouth guard is worn during a rugby game and a tooth is cracked or broken, this will usually result in that tooth being susceptible to the same discomfort as if the enamel were worn down. Similarly, teeth grinding or clenching can also cause dentine hypersensitivity, as can a damaged filling and even brushing your teeth too aggressively.
We should point out, that we would strongly recommend you coming in and seeing one of our trained staff if you are experiencing even mild levels of tooth sensitivity. This is because, if left untreated it can become significantly more painful over time and when linked with other symptoms, for example, swollen gums or loose teeth, the pain can be significant. Finding the cause of the sensitivity early and treating the cause directly will greatly assist in decreasing or prevent the sensitivity from getting worse.
The treatment for sensitive teeth will depend on the cause of the sensitivity in the first place. Depending on what the underlaying cause is, some of the treatment options which we may recommend include:
It should also be pointed out that other complementary treatments or improvements to your oral health may also be recommended. This could include more regular teeth cleaning by one of our hygienists to help reduce plague, changing to a softer tooth brush, improvements in the brushing technique used or changing to an electric toothbrush recommended and sometimes even a mouthguard being recommend to prevent teeth grinding. Naturally, as mentioned above, the treatment will depend on the cause of the tooth sensitivity and therefore the treatment can vary significantly from individual to individual.
If you are reading this and possibly other articles on the internet about sensitive teeth treatments or even home remedies, you may think that simply changing toothpastes is enough and will 'cure' your discomfort. You may even simply just recognise that certain foods like passion fruit or oranges are your triggers to experiencing discomfort and therefore simply avoid them. Given that for the rest of the day you are otherwise unaffected this may be 'good enough' in your mind. Unfortunately, however, sensitive teeth are really better viewed as a symptom rather than an affliction themselves. By this we mean that if you did indeed have perfect oral health and hygiene then it is fairly unlikely you would experience sensitivity when eating or drinking. By experiencing discomfort, however, there is a reason for this which should be identified and treated. For example, even if your sensitivity is cause by only minor enamel erosion, if left untreated then the cause of this, possibly improper brushing techniques can make the erosion worse. This in turn can then lead to dental decay or caries which can cause other complications such as tooth infections or abscess which may require root canal or the extraction of the tooth. This could potentially have been avoided if addressed early by possibly undergoing a fluoride treatment and changing brushing techniques. Whilst you may still have to avoid the passion fruits and oranges, by finding the cause early further complications and cost down the track can hopefully be avoided. Simply ignoring the sensitivity or avoiding the triggers is unfortunately not enough.