Does a bite of cold ice cream or a sip of hot coffee sometimes hurt your teeth? If so, you are not alone. Sensitive teeth is a common problem we see among our patients. The great news is that sensitive teeth can be treated; however, the type of treatment depends on what is causing the sensitivity.
To understand tooth sensitivity, we must first understand the anatomy of a tooth. Teeth are composed of four dental tissues: enamel, dentin, cementum, and the pulp. In a healthy tooth, a layer of enamel protects the crown of the tooth (the portion above the gum line). Below the gum line, cementum protects the root of the tooth. Underneath both the enamel and cementum is dentin. Dentin contains microscopic tubules which connect to the pulp (the portion of the tooth containing the nerve). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum, hot, cold, or sweet stimuli from our foods can travel through the exposed tubules and reach the nerve causing sensitivity. This dentin hypersensitivity is what causes tooth sensitivity.
There are a variety of treatments your dentist may recommend to address your tooth sensitivity. The treatment option best for you will depend on the cause of your dentin exposure and sensitivity.
Desensitizing toothpastes are effective in most cases of tooth sensitivity. These toothpastes contain compounds that help buffer the transmission of irritating stimuli (hot, cold, sweet) through the dentin tubules to the nerve. Several applications are often required for the compounds to build up within the tubules and reduce sensitivity.
Fluoride varnish is an in-office application that may be recommended by your dentist or hygienist to help strengthen your enamel. When absorbed by the tooth, the fluoride helps remineralize enamel making it more resistant to cavities and wear and more insulative against irritating stimuli.
When a tooth has decay (a cavity) or is fractured, a restorative solution is necessary. Your dentist may recommend a filling or crown to correct the fracture or decay that is causing the sensitivity.
If your gum tissue has receded around the tooth and the root has become exposed, a surgical gum graft (often completed by a periodontist) may be the best solution to protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
In cases where sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be resolved by other means, your dentist may recommend a root canal to remove the pulp tissue and eliminate your sensitivity.
If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, schedule an appointment with your dentist to evaluate your teeth and discuss which solution is best to resolve your sensitivity.