Can I Prevent Tooth Sensitivity & What Can I Do if I Have Sensitive Teeth?

Almost half the population suffers from tooth sensitivity and many accept it as normal. The good news is that sensitivity can be treated with simple in-office and at-home treatments.

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What is Tooth Sensitvity?

Tooth sensitivity is a common name for dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. If hot, cold, sweet or very acidic foods and drinks, or breathing in cold air, makes your teeth or a tooth sensitive or painful then you have sensitive teeth.Is Tooth Sensitivity Common? Tooth sensitivity is very common and it has been estimated that approximately half the population experiences tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity can come and go over time.

Why does Tooth Sensitivity (Dentin Hypersensitivity) Happen? Tooth sensitivity is usually caused by dentin on root areas exposed due to receded gums or periodontal disease. Receded gums are very common and up to four fifths of people have gum recession by the time they are 65.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is something that affects a number of people. It is often caused by eating or drinking something hot, cold, sweet or acidic.

Tooth sensitivity is something that affects a number of people. It is often caused by eating or drinking something hot, cold, sweet or acidic. Under normal conditions, the underlying dentin of the tooth (the layer that immediately surrounds the nerve) is covered by the enamel in the tooth crown, and the gums that surround the tooth. Over time, the enamel covering can get thinner, thus providing less protection. The gums can also recede over time, exposing the underlying root surface dentin.

The dentin contains a large numbers of pores or tubes that run from the outside of the tooth to the nerve in the center. When the dentin is exposed, these tubes can be stimulated by changes in temperature or certain foods.

What can I do about it?
The first step in doing something about dental sensitivity is to find out what the cause is – a dental professional can help you with this. If the sensitivity is due to exposed dentin, there are a number of steps you can take, as can your dental professional, to help reduce the sensitivity. These can include:

  • Using a very soft bristle tooth brush
  • Brushing correctly to help prevent abrasion of the enamel and recession of the gums
  • Using a toothpaste specially formulated to help reduce sensitivity
  • The dental professional can:
    • Apply a fluoride varnish on the sensitive areas to help strengthen the tooth
    • Prescribe a high fluoride tooth paste to use every day
    • Place a dental restoration to build up the areas that have lost enamel

In the end, whether you need an in-office procedure or over-the-counter products, the most important step is to see a dental professional so that he or she can determine the cause of the tooth sensitivity and help you find a solution that will work.

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Treatment Options for Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is due to the exposure of dentin, the part of the tooth which covers the nerve, either through loss of the enamel layer or recession of the gums.

The best way to find out why a tooth is sensitive is to have dental professional examine you. They can look for the signs of dentin exposure, and run tests to determine what the true cause of the sensitivity is. Sometimes, the sensitivity is due to a cavity or gum disease – these can be treated to address the sensitivity. Other times, the cause of the sensitivity is because the enamel has been lost through abrasion or erosion, or the gums have receded, causing the roots to be exposed.

What Can Be Done?
If the sensitivity is due to a cavity, a restoration can be placed. If gum disease is the cause, the dental professional can perform a thorough cleaning of the area.

However, if the cause is from dentin being exposed, then there are a number of professional and at home treatments that can be used to reduce the sensitivity.

  • In Office Procedures:
    • Fluoride varnish can be applied to exposed areas, strengthening the enamel and dentin
    • Fluoride foam or gel can be placed into a mouth tray; you then sit with this in your mouth for 3-5 minutes, providing the teeth with a high concentration of fluoride to strengthen the areas
    • Bonding agent, the material used to stick tooth colored restorations to teeth, can be used to seal the dentin surface and provide a barrier to the stimuli that cause sensitivity
  • At Home:
    • Use a very soft bristle tooth brush, with low abrasive tooth paste
    • Brush correctly and do not over brush
    • Use a tooth paste specially formulated to soothe the nerve endings in the tooth
    • Use a high concentration fluoride toothpaste (given to you by the dental professional) to strengthen the tooth surface

There are a number of treatments available, and your dental professional can help you find those that will work best, depending on your situation. Always seek a dental professional’s help – do not try to diagnose this problem yourself. It may be the sign of something more serious, and only a dental professional can tell you what it really is.

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