You brush every morning, your smile is beautiful, breath is ok, all seems well until you feel it. The shocking sharp pain in your teeth (tooth sensitivity) when you put cold water in your mouth. It changes your perspective on pain, food, and even life. You call the dentist and she tells you she suspects that you have tooth sensitivity. What does this mean?
Tooth sensitivity also known as dentin sensitivity or dentin hypersensitivity is sharp pain arising from the tooth dentin when exposed to cold, heat, chemicals, touch, or osmotic stimuli. In other words, cold or hot food and drinks, acidic and sweet food or drinks can cause this pain. It can affect one tooth, several teeth, a particular part of the mouth, or the whole mouth.
The tooth which is the hardest part of the human body consists of several parts: The Enamel which is the outermost part made of calcium, the dentin underlying the enamel which has microscopic tubes, the pulp which is the soft inner portion that contains blood vessels and nerves and the Cementum, a mineralized bone-like tissue that attaches the root of the teeth to the gum.
The Dentin surrounds the pulp and is covered by the Enamel on the crown and cementum at the root. The crown is the visible white part of the tooth above the gum while the root is located within the gum.
Exposure of microscopic tubes in the dentin leads to the exposure of nerve endings in the pulp causing tooth sensitivity. This exposure is by erosion of the enamel and or exposure of the gum root with loss of cementum. Exposure can occur as a result of brushing too hard, periodontal diseases leading to recession of the gum, teeth grinding, consumption of acidic foods and drinks, and some dental procedures like teeth bleaching.
Other medical conditions like Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and diseases that cause frequent vomiting like Bulimia can also cause tooth sensitivity. Persons at higher risk of sensitivity include those who use hard brushes, scrub the teeth excessively or use abrasive toothpaste, persons suffering from dry mouth (Xerostomia), older persons with receding gums, tobacco users, as well as persons who consume highly acidic foods and drinks like Citrus drinks amongst others.
Treatment of Tooth sensitivity involves
- Use of desensitizing or remineralizing agents: Desensitizing toothpaste contains Potassium salts and fluoride which can reduce the dentine sensitivity. Remineralizing toothpaste, on the other hand, contains sodium fluoride and calcium phosphate and can also reduce sensitivity.
- A dentist can recommend any of the following after assessment of the tooth: A crown or canal for decayed teeth, a fluoride gel or varnish, and a surgical gum graft for receded gums to protect the root of the teeth.
- Treatment of underlying medical conditions will also help curb sensitivity.
What could have been done to prevent tooth sensitivity:
- Good oral hygiene. It is prescribed that brushing should be done twice daily with soft bristle brushes and fluoride toothpaste at a 45degree angle from the enamel. Scrubbing should not be excessive. Flossing after each meal is also advised to prevent the accumulation of food debris around the teeth. Brushing after a meal should be done at least 30 minutes to one hour after to prevent abrasion
- Dry mouth or Xerostomia results from reduced saliva flow. It can be a result of dehydration, medication side effects, or even sleeping with your mouth open. Staying hydrated with water or other sugar-free liquids is one way to prevent this. Another way is to chew sugar-free gum which will promote the production of saliva.
- Highly acidic foods and drinks should be avoided as they can erode the enamel. Examples include processed foods, sodas, and other sweetened beverages. Instead of these, eat alkaline foods like fruits, vegetables, avocado, beans and drink water