Getting to the bottom of sensitive teeth
Dentine hypersensitivity is a sudden, sharp shooting pain in the teeth triggered by hot, cold or acidic foodstuff. Pain is also felt with touch, such as from chewing or tooth-brushing, and with air pressure, such as when one is breathing through the mouth.
Cracked teeth, cavities, worn tooth enamel (outer layer of the tooth), worn tooth fillings and exposed tooth roots can cause hypersensitivity. When the tooth’s outer covering breaks down, dentin is exposed (inner tooth bone layer), allowing heat and cold or food particles to pass through its hollow tubules; this irritates the nerve fibers in the tooth pulp. The sensory nerve endings are responsible for our sensation.
The dentin may also be exposed when gums recede due to infection (periodontal disease). In advanced periodontitis, the tooth attachment and its supporting structures are destroyed, leaving the root exposed. This leads to hypersensitivity in the gumline. Brushing the teeth too aggressively can also injure the gums and expose the tooth roots.
Treatments of sensitive teeth range from desensitizing toothpastes that contain potassium nitrate (inactivates the nerve) to fluoride gel that strengthens tooth enamel, sealants and bonding agents that seal the sensitive teeth and root canal therapy. Endodontic, or root canal, treatment (removal of the pulp tissue) will be recommended by the dentist in severe or chronic cases.
Proper oral hygiene, including proper brushing technique and flossing, and a healthy diet will prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and tooth mineral loss. Enamel loss has been attributed to an acidic diet, which produces demineralization.