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Dental Health Articles

Sensitive Teeth: Possible Early or Late Signs of Something More Serious

By Nick K. Nguyen, DDS, APC

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem faced by many people. Whether the pain is initiated by hot coffee or ice cold water, pressure from hard foods, or bristles of a toothbrush, this problem may not only be annoying but may indicate early or late signs of something more serious. Things that may cause tooth sensitivity includes (but not limited to): dental decay, root exposure from receding gums, periodontal disease, a cracked tooth, worn or thin enamel, worn or thin fillings, leaky restorations, or a dying tooth.

The outer covering of a tooth is surrounded by enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in our body and protects out teeth from cavities and tooth sensitivity. Dentin is the middle layer of a tooth and is much more porous than enamel and also contains fluid-filled tubules with nerve fibers extending from the pulp (the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels). If the enamel is damaged or if the dentin layer is exposed, any stimulants including but not limited to hots, colds, sweets, or pressure can all trigger the tooth to be sensitive. Finding the cause of tooth sensitivity is very important because each cause will lead to different treatment options. However, sometimes it may not be obvious as to the cause of a sensitive tooth, especially if the there are multiple causes.

One of the more common reasons why people have sensitive teeth is through gum recession from periodontal disease and/ or improper brushing. Bacteria contained in dental plaque if uncontrolled may cause deterioration of the supporting gums and bone levels. Using a medium or hard bristled toothbrush in conjunction with aggressive side-to side sawing motions can have the same effect. The outcome is root exposure. It is important to know that roots do not have enamel and exposed roots may lead to painful sensitivity. And once gums are lost, they usually cannot come back. Having regular check-ups and profession cleanings can prevent further damage to the gums and bone. If detected early, your dentist may be able to resolve or reduce your tooth sensitivity by prescribing sensitivity toothpaste, placing or replacing old fillings or crowns, placing a protective varnish layer. The more the deterioration, the more likely more aggressive procedures such as gum surgery, root canal therapy, and extraction may need to resolve the symptoms.

Did you know?

Whitening and Tartar control toothpaste can make tooth sensitivity worse. Whitening and tartar control toothpaste generally contain more abrasive particles and if used routinely can cause external tooth structures to be abraded and thinned out.


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