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Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive Teeth

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Tooth sensitivity (also known as dentine hypersensitivity) commonly appears as a pain due to temperature changes, pressure, sweet and acidic food or drink. This reaction may be mild or intense. The classic example is eating ice cream, but simply being out in the cold weather is sometimes enough to set off the problem. Sensitivity to touch can also lead to pain due to tooth-brushing.

Research shows that one in three people in the UK suffer from sensitive teeth at any one time. Dentine hypersensitivity can occur from 15 to 70 years of age or more, however the age group when it occurs most is between 20 and 40 years.

Triggers of tooth sensitivity and the severity will change from person to person, although the most causative factors are :-
  • Cold food and drinks (eg ice cream)
  • Over-enthusiastic or incorrect tooth brushing
  • Hot food and drinks (eg hot tea or coffee)
  • Sharp acidic foods (eg apples, oranges)

Any teeth can be affected but the most likely are those at the front corners of the mouth. It is suggested that this might be because these are the teeth which tend to be brushed more vigorously. This leads to the removal of enamel and the exposure of the sensitive under-layer called dentine.

It is thought that there are two general ways in which this sensitivity can develop :
  • Wearing or destruction of the hard, protective outer layer of the tooth crown called enamel. This may be related to:
    1. Biting abnormalities or abnormal tooth grinding
    2. Toothbrush abrasion, ie the wearing-away of enamel and/or recession of gums caused by over-enthusiastic or incorrect brushing
    3. Dietary erosion – the destruction of enamel by acidic food and drink or by acid regurgitation from the stomach
    4. Habit – nail biting or the placing of metal objects between the teeth
    5. Attrition – the wearing away of enamel by tooth grinding.
  • Gum recession exposing the softer porous tooth structures called dentine and cementum (the surface of the roots is covered in a substance called cementum). This may be related to :-
    1. Chronic gum (periodontal) disease
    2. Gum surgery
    3. Incorrect tooth brushing.
Sensitivity and dental pain can also be experienced for a number of other reasons :
  • Chipped teeth
  • Fractured or cracked fillings
  • Dental decay (caries)
  • Deep fillings
  • Cracked teeth.

Diet also plays a role in tooth sensitivity. If there is a high amount of acid in the diet this will lead to acid erosion, causing enamel to be removed from the tooth surface. This will then lead to sensitivity.

  • There are a number of treatments than can be carried out to help with tooth sensitivity and some of these are listed below. The use of special desensitising toothpastes can also help greatly with this problem.
  • Applying fluoride varnish to exposed sensitive dentine or cementum
  • Apply sealer to root surface which block dentinal tubules
  • Correcting any bite abnormalities to help reduce the wearing of enamel
  • Placing fillings to cover exposed dentine or cementum on root surfaces.