Soothing relief for sensitive teeth
If drinking a cold beverage or biting into certain foods causes sharp pangs of tooth sensitivity or pain, you’re not alone. Up to one-third of adults deal with tooth sensitivity and most simply grin and bear the pain. For those with periodontal disease, the percentage of those suffering from sensitivity in teeth, is often much higher. Tooth sensitivity is most often noticed when a person drinks hot beverages, or eats sweet, sour, or acidic foods, from the touch of the dentist’s sharp tool, or from a blast of cold air. Bleaching agents used in tooth whitening can also cause short-term tooth sensitivity.
What is tooth sensitivity and what causes it?
The technical name for tooth sensitivity is dentin or dentinal hypersensitivy and affects most often the canines (the relatively long and pointed teeth, also called cuspids) and the premolars (or bicuspids, between the canines and molars). Tooth sensitivity most often occurs when the dentin – the layer underneath the tooth’s enamel (which covers the crown) and cementum (which covers the tooth’s root below the gum line) becomes exposed. This can be a result from gum recession such as seen in periodontal disease, overaggressive brushing, tooth grinding, exposure to acids (from acidic foods or acid reflux), or other factors, including natural wear and tear.
Why a person experiences pain is called the hydrodynamic theory which is when dentin is exposed, a trigger (such as cold) shifts the flow of fluid in microscopic channels inside the dentin (called dentinal tubules), activating nerve fibers in the tooth’s pulp. When compared to nonsensitive teeth, sensitive teeth have been shown to have a greater number of open tubules that are wider. Most treatments aim to either block the tubules or dampen the nerve response.
How to tackle tooth pain
Anyone with tooth sensitivity or tooth pain should see their dentist to rule out other problems, such as a cavity, cracked or chipped tooth, or fractured dental restoration.
If the cause of tooth pain or sensitivity is due to dentinal hypersensitivity, there are several treatments, but before using the more invasive treatments first, there are more conservative treatments that should be attempted first. Below are some steps to try first for relieving tooth sensitivity:
· Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and avoid brushing with excessive force. It’s best to use an electric toothbrush and let the brush do the work while holding it gently against the teeth.
· Some toothpastes are more abrasive than others. Those containing baking soda tend to be less abrasive, but they may still contain some abrasive ingredients such as aluminum hydroxide, hydrated silica, and hydroxyapatite. Whitening toothpastes are the most abrasive, but some come with ingredients that help protect enamel.
· Try desensitizing toothpastes. These typically contain high-concentration stannous fluoride or strontium chloride or potassium nitrate, all which can help block pain signals coming from nerves. There are also desensitizing oral rinses and strips that contain an oxalate gel to block the tubules.
· Limit consumption of acidic foods and beverages which can cause erosion and may trigger pain. These foods include hot coffee, hot tea, citrus fruits, tomatoes, wine, most fermented foods and cheese, sport drinks, plum, prunes and cranberries, and pickled products.
· For anyone with severe discomfort in one or two teeth, a dentist can treat it with various topical desensitizing agents (such as fluoride varnishes and gels) or apply sealants to the teeth. There are also prescription toothpastes to help desensitize roots.
· If the sensitivity is due to gum recession, a periodontist can do a surgical gum graft to cover the exposed root.
· The best thing to practice is prevention of tooth sensitivity. This can be accomplished by maintain good dental hygiene, which includes brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing at least once a day.