One of the most common concerns we hear in the dental office is that of “sensitive teeth.” In general, patients report an area or areas of teeth that are particularly sensitive to cold and occasionally to touch (i.e. while brushing). This can be variable in severity, sometimes barely noticed and other times so intense that a drink of water causes the person to cringe.
There are multiple reasons why a tooth might be sensitive. Cavities can certainly cause temperature sensitivity, as can cracked teeth. But when the sensitivity is not specific to one tooth, but rather is widespread over an area or multiple areas of the mouth, the most common cause is sensitivity due to gingival (gum) recession. Recession is a process whereby the gums shrink back from the neck of the tooth, exposing the root surface. The root surface is not covered by a hard shell of enamel. The pores of the tooth root (called tubules) are more widely open than they are on the crown of the tooth. These tubules are a direct pathway to the nerve of the tooth. It’s no wonder that temperature and touch are felt much more acutely on the root of the tooth!
Recession is not reversible–we can’t grow back the lost gums–so when the sensitivity is intense enough to cause daily discomfort, we need to find other solutions to reduce it. This is where sensitivity-reducing toothpastes fit in. Toothpaste that claim to be for sensitive teeth are basically regular toothpastes but with an additional ingredient that acts to plug up those open pores, creating a physical barrier between your teeth and whatever is causing the sensitivity. These toothpastes can be used in place of your regular toothpaste. They typically take about two weeks of regular use to form an initial barrier, and they must be used continually to maintain the barrier.
If the toothpaste alone is not enough to reduce the sensitivity, we can apply a desensitizing treatment to any particularly sensitive teeth. The treatment is considered semi-permanent; it gets bonded to the tooth but will eventually wear off and require replacement. Relief is felt instantly. Finally, in more advanced cases, we may elect to place a permanent filling over the sensitive site, again creating a physical barrier over the open pores of the tooth.
If you are experiencing a sensitive tooth or teeth, it is best to book a dental appointment to have it assessed. While many cases of sensitivity can be treated with sensitivity-reducing toothpaste alone, we always want to rule out other potentially more serious causes. Call (416)422-0220 to book your appointment!
Written by: Dr. Jennifer Hittner