Tooth Sensitivity, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention: When you eat certain things like ice cream, hot soup, and citric juice, you feel a sudden sensation in your teeth. Have you ever wondered what is it? Well, this is sensitivity.
The sudden and sharp sensation, pain, or any other discomfort marks the presence of tooth sensitivity. While tooth sensitivity is not a life-threatening condition, it can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, making it essential to understand its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options.
How is tooth sensitivity caused?
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the protective layer of enamel on the tooth’s surface is compromised, exposing the underlying dentin. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that lead to the tooth’s nerve endings, making it sensitive to external stimuli. Several factors can contribute to tooth sensitivity, including, dental erosion, gum recession, tooth decay, teeth grinding, etc.
Types of tooth sensitivity!
Tooth sensitivity can be categorized into different types based on the underlying cause or location of the sensitivity. Here are some common types of tooth sensitivity:
Dentin hypersensitivity, also known as dentin sensitivity, is the most prevalent type of tooth sensitivity. It occurs when the underlying dentin layer of the tooth becomes exposed, typically due to enamel erosion, gum recession, or tooth decay.
Dentin contains microscopic tubules that connect to the tooth’s nerve endings, making it sensitive to external stimuli. When dentin is exposed, triggers such as hot, cold, sweet, or acidic substances can cause discomfort or pain.
Root sensitivity occurs when the roots of the teeth become exposed. This can happen due to gum recession, which exposes the normally protected root surfaces. Unlike the enamel-covered crown of the tooth, the root surfaces are covered by a softer tissue called cementum.
Cementum is more prone to wear and erosion, leading to increased sensitivity. Root sensitivity is often characterized by pain or discomfort when consuming hot or cold substances or when brushing near the gumline.
Pulpitis refers to inflammation or irritation of the dental pulp, the soft tissue located in the center of the tooth. It can be categorized into reversible pulpitis and irreversible pulpitis. Reversible pulpitis is characterized by temporary tooth sensitivity or pain that subsides once the cause is removed, such as after consuming a hot or cold stimulus.
Irreversible pulpitis, on the other hand, is characterized by severe and persistent tooth pain that lingers even after the trigger is removed. Irreversible pulpitis typically requires root canal treatment to alleviate the pain and save the tooth.
Cracked Tooth Syndrome:
This syndrome can occur in the teeth with cracks or deep fractures that run up to the pulp of the teeth. The crack can be caused by various factors, such as trauma, grinding, or chewing on hard objects.
The sensitivity associated with a cracked tooth may vary, depending on the location and extent of the crack. Individuals with cracked tooth syndrome often experience pain or discomfort when biting or chewing, especially when releasing the bite pressure.
Some individuals may experience temporary sensitivity following certain dental treatments. For example, after getting a dental filling, crown, or orthodontic adjustments, teeth may become temporarily sensitive. This sensitivity is typically short-lived and resolves on its own as the tooth adjusts to the treatment.
What are the factors that can cause tooth sensitivity?
Several factors can contribute to tooth sensitivity, here are some common causes:
Dental erosion is the gradual loss of tooth enamel caused by an acid attack. Acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices, can erode the enamel over time. Additionally, conditions like acid reflux or frequent vomiting introduce stomach acid into the mouth, which can also contribute to enamel erosion. As the enamel wears away, the dentin becomes exposed, leading to tooth sensitivity.
The naked or visible tooth roots are a result of gum recession. It can result from various factors, including aggressive brushing techniques, periodontal (gum) disease, hormonal changes, age-related tissue changes, and tooth misalignment. Unlike enamel, which is the hardest substance in the body, tooth roots are covered by cementum, a softer tissue that is more vulnerable to wear and exposure.
Dental cavities or tooth decay can lead to tooth sensitivity. When bacteria in the mouth produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel, a cavity forms. If the decay progresses and reaches the dentin, it can cause sensitivity. Decay-related sensitivity often manifests as a lingering pain or discomfort when eating or drinking hot, cold, or sweet substances.
Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Bruxism refers to the habit of grinding or clenching the teeth, usually during sleep or subconsciously during the day. The excessive forces exerted during grinding can wear down the enamel, exposing the dentin and leading to tooth sensitivity. Additionally, the pressure from grinding can cause gum recession, further contributing to sensitivity.
Some dental treatments can cause temporary tooth sensitivity. For example, teeth whitening procedures often involve the use of bleaching agents that can irritate the tooth nerves, causing sensitivity. Similarly, dental procedures such as fillings, crowns, or orthodontic adjustments may result in temporary sensitivity, usually resolving on their own within a short period.
Teeth with cracks or fractures can be sensitive due to the exposure of dentin and possible damage to the tooth’s internal nerve tissue. Cracks can occur due to various reasons, including trauma, biting down on hard objects, or untreated tooth decay. The severity of sensitivity depends on the extent and location of the crack.
What are the symptoms of the tooth sensitivity?
Symptoms of tooth sensitivity can vary from person to person, but they typically involve a sharp, temporary pain or discomfort in response to certain triggers. Here are some common symptoms associated with tooth sensitivity:
Individuals with tooth sensitivity often experience sudden, sharp pain or discomfort in one or more teeth. The pain is typically short-lived but can be intense. It may feel like a shooting or electric sensation that subsides quickly once the trigger is removed.
Sensitivity to Temperature
Teeth sensitivity is commonly triggered by hot or cold temperatures. Consuming hot foods or beverages, such as coffee or soup, or drinking cold water can cause a sudden jolt of pain or discomfort in the affected tooth. The sensitivity may persist for a few moments or even longer.
Sensitivity to Sweet or Acidic Foods
Tooth sensitivity can also be triggered by sweet or acidic foods and beverages. Consuming sugary items like candy, ice cream, or acidic drinks like citrus juices or carbonated sodas may lead to sensitivity and discomfort.
Some individuals with tooth sensitivity may experience discomfort when exposed to cold air. Breathing in through the mouth on a cold day or sipping cold beverages can cause sensitivity and an uncomfortable sensation.
Brushing and Flossing Sensitivity
People with tooth sensitivity often experience pain or discomfort when brushing or flossing their teeth, particularly in the affected areas. The act of brushing, especially with a toothbrush that has hard bristles or using an aggressive technique, can irritate the exposed dentin and trigger sensitivity.
Tongue or Object Sensitivity
Touching the affected tooth with the tongue or objects like toothpicks can elicit a sharp, momentary pain or discomfort.
Discomfort during Dental Examinations
Dental professionals may notice signs of sensitivity during routine examinations. Probing the teeth or applying cold air or water can cause sensitivity, leading to an immediate reaction from the patient.
In some cases, tooth sensitivity may be accompanied by gum sensitivity or discomfort. This can be especially evident when brushing or flossing around the affected tooth or in cases where gum recession is present.
What are the treatment options for tooth sensitivity?
The treatment for tooth sensitivity depends on the underlying cause and severity of the sensitivity. Here are some common treatment options for various types of tooth sensitivity:
Desensitizing toothpaste contains compounds such as potassium nitrate or strontium chloride that help block the sensation of pain. They work by filling the microscopic tubules in the dentin, reducing the transmission of stimuli to the tooth’s nerve.
Regular use of desensitizing toothpaste over time can provide relief from sensitivity. It’s important to note that desensitizing toothpaste may take a few weeks of consistent use to show optimal results.
Fluoride treatments can help strengthen the tooth enamel and reduce tooth sensitivity. Dentists may apply fluoride gels, foams, or varnishes to the affected teeth during a dental visit. Alternatively, they may prescribe at-home fluoride products, such as mouth rinses or toothpaste with higher fluoride concentrations. Fluoride helps to remineralize the enamel, making it more resistant to the triggers that cause sensitivity.
For individuals with exposed dentin or root surfaces due to gum recession or enamel erosion, dental bonding may be recommended. Dental bonding involves applying a tooth-colored resin material to the affected areas.
This resin acts as a protective barrier, covering the exposed dentin and reducing sensitivity. Dental bonding is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide significant relief from sensitivity.
In some cases, dental sealants may be recommended to alleviate tooth sensitivity. There are implanted at the chewing surface of the molar teeth as a thin protective film. They create a barrier that helps prevent the penetration of bacteria and acid, reducing the risk of decay and sensitivity.
Surgical Gum Grafting:
When gum recession is severe and causes tooth sensitivity, surgical gum grafting may be necessary. This procedure involves taking tissue from another part of the mouth, such as the palate, and grafting it onto the areas of gum recession.
The grafted tissue covers the exposed tooth roots, reducing sensitivity and protecting the underlying structures. Gum grafting is typically performed by a periodontist, a dental specialist in treating gum-related issues.
Root Canal Therapy:
In cases where tooth sensitivity is caused by irreversible pulpitis or extensive decay that has reached the dental pulp, root canal therapy may be recommended. During this procedure, the infected or damaged pulp is removed, and the root canals are cleaned, disinfected, and sealed.
Root canal therapy eliminates the source of pain and sensitivity by removing the affected nerve tissue. Following a successful root canal treatment, the tooth can be restored with a dental crown for added protection.
Poor Dental Restorations:
Sometimes, tooth sensitivity can be caused by ill-fitting dental restorations, such as fillings or crowns. In such cases, a dentist may need to adjust or replace the restoration to ensure a proper fit and alleviate sensitivity.
Prevention plays a crucial role in minimizing the risk of tooth sensitivity. By following good oral hygiene practices and making certain lifestyle adjustments, you can help protect your teeth from sensitivity.
Maintain Proper Oral Hygiene:
Be gentle when brushing, using small circular motions rather than aggressive scrubbing. Additionally, floss daily to clean between your teeth and along the gumline. Proper oral hygiene helps prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and enamel erosion, reducing the risk of tooth sensitivity.
Use a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush:
Using a toothbrush with soft bristles is essential to prevent enamel wear and gum recession. Hard or medium-bristled toothbrushes can be too abrasive and contribute to enamel erosion and gum irritation. A soft-bristled toothbrush allows for effective cleaning without causing unnecessary damage to the teeth or gums.
Avoid Aggressive Brushing Techniques:
Avoid using excessive force or aggressive brushing techniques, as they can wear down the tooth enamel and lead to gum recession. Instead, use gentle pressure and brush in a circular motion. Let the bristles do the work without applying excessive force.
Restrict food and beverages containing acid:
Acidic foods and beverages can erode the tooth enamel, making the teeth more susceptible to sensitivity. Limit your consumption of acidic items such as citrus fruits, sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices. When consuming acidic foods or beverages, use a straw to minimize contact with the teeth and rinse your mouth with water afterward.
Practice Smart Eating Habits:
Avoid excessive consumption of sugary and sticky foods that can contribute to tooth decay. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps maintain oral health by promoting saliva production, which aids in neutralizing acid and remineralizing the teeth.
Wear a Mouthguard:
If you grind or clench your teeth during sleep or while awake (bruxism), wearing a mouthguard can help protect your teeth from excessive force and prevent enamel wear. A custom-fitted mouthguard made by a dentist provides the best protection.
Attend Regular Dental Check-ups:
In order to avoid any issues regular and per4iodic dental check-ups are very important.. Dentists can identify signs of enamel erosion, gum recession, or other factors that may contribute to tooth sensitivity. They can guide oral hygiene practices and recommend suitable preventive measures tailored to your specific needs.
Consider Fluoride Products:
Using fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinses can strengthen the tooth enamel and reduce the risk of sensitivity. Consult with your dentist to determine if additional fluoride treatments, such as professional fluoride applications, are beneficial for your oral health.
Tooth sensitivity can indicate an underlying dental problem, such as enamel erosion, gum disease, tooth decay, or cracked teeth. It is important to seek dental evaluation to determine the cause of the sensitivity and address any potential dental issues.
In some cases, mild tooth sensitivity may resolve on its own, especially if the trigger is removed or if the enamel remineralizes naturally. However, persistent or worsening sensitivity should not be ignored, as it may indicate an underlying problem that requires professional treatment.
Teeth whitening procedures can cause temporary tooth sensitivity for some individuals. The bleaching agents used in whitening treatments can irritate the tooth nerves and lead to sensitivity.