Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment


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Do you suffer from sensitivity to cold or hot foods or drinks? Does breathing cold air cause discomfort? You are not alone. Sensitive teeth is a common complaint among our patients, but this pain can be treated with professional care. Causes of teeth sensitivity may include: gum recession, worn enamel or dentin, tooth decay (caries), periodontal disease, exposed roots due to overly aggressive brushing, and repeated consumption of highly acidic foods and drinks.

Enamel, the hardest substance in the body, covers the crowns of teeth while cementum, a bony material that helps attach teeth to the supporting bone, covers the root. When protective enamel or cementum covering the dentin is lost due to tooth decay, over-brushing or periodontal disease, your dentin will become exposed. As a result, microscopic tubules present in dentin conduct thermal stimuli from the exposed surface into the pulp, triggering a painful response.

Enamel is most commonly affected by caries and cementum by aggressive brushing, made worse if combined with constant exposure to very acidic foods or drinks. Proper oral hygiene is an important step in reducing the chance of developing hypersensitivity. If teeth are brushed too aggressively, brushed with a hard brush or brushed with unpolished bristle tips, recession of protective gum tissue may be caused.

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is also a leading cause of hypersensitivity. When gums and bone that support the teeth are affected, bacteria growth can live in untreated areas between the teeth and gums and aid in recession. Regular dental checkups are vital in identifying and treating these problems before they become serious.

Sensitive teeth can be successfully treated by use of over-the-counter desensitizing toothpastes, but improvement is typically gradual and can take as long as 6 weeks to show changes. In some cases, eliminating highly acidic foods or drinks in your diet may greatly reduce the problem. Exposure to foods or drinks that have a particularly low pH should be reduced or eliminated, especially if imbibed between meals. Adding lemon to beverages, wine (especially white), apples, grapefruits, pineapples, athletic drinks and soft drinks can be especially detrimental.

If using desensitizing toothpaste or eliminating acidic foods and drinks does not work, application of a fluoride-containing gel may be an option. This may be done by a dentist, however take-home versions may also be prescribed. Always follow suggested precautions as swallowing products high in fluoride are hazardous. Depending on your individual needs, dentists may also recommend a gum graft, filling, crown or in rare cases endodontic treatment (root canal).

Teeth sensitivity is a highly unpleasant experience, but it does not have to be permanent. With minimal effort, relief can be found by a small change in habits or seeking assistance from a professional who can help.

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Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment
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Teeth sensitivity is a highly unpleasant experience, but it does not have to be permanent. With minimal effort, relief can be found by a small change in habits or seeking assistance from a professional who can help.

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Martin Levin
Martin Levin

Dr. Martin Levin is an experienced Endodontist and internationally recognized lecturer on Endodontic therapy from Chevy Chase, MD. For more information on Dr. Levin, visit www.endocc.com.

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