Tooth Desensitization

Does the temperature of ice cream or a hot beverage elicit a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? If so, you may have dental hypersensitivity (sensitive teeth).

Possible causes include:

  • Tooth decay (cavities)
  • Fractured teeth
  • Worn fillings
  • Gum disease
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Exposed tooth root

In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth—the part above the gum line. Under the gum line a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin.  Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum these tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves of the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede leading to dental hypersensitivity.

Sensitive teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest one of a variety of treatments:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste. This contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.
  • Fluoride gel. An in-office technique that strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations.
  • A crown, inlay or bonding. These methods can be used to correct many known causes of dental hypersensitivity.
  • Surgical gum graft. If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
  • Root canal. If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.

Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing sensitive-tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.

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