Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel that protects our teeth gets thinner, or when gum recession occurs, exposing the underlying surface, the dentin, thus, reducing the protection, the enamel and gums provide to the tooth and root.
Signs and Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity
If hot, cold, sweet, or very acidic foods and drinks, or breathing in cold air, makes the teeth or a tooth sensitive or painful, is an indication of sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity can appear and go over time. Under normal conditions, the underlying dentin of the tooth (the layer that immediately surrounds the nerve) is covered by the enamel in the tooth crown and the gums that surround the tooth. Over time, the enamel covering can get thinner, thus providing less protection. The gums can also recede over time, exposing the underlying root surface dentin.
The dentin contains a large number of pores or tubes that run from the outside of the tooth to the nerve in the center. When the dentin is exposed, these tubes can be stimulated by changes in temperature or certain foods. Fig.1 below shows the dentin tubules under the microscope.
Triggers for Sensitive Teeth
Apart from common triggers, dentin exposure can occur due to several factors. Some of the more common reasons are:
- Gum recession due to age or improper tooth brushing.
- Acidic beverages (such as soda) that cause enamel erosion and dentin exposure.
- Tooth grinding – this may cause most or all of the teeth to feel sensitive.
- Brushing with very abrasive toothpaste, brushing incorrectly, and/or brushing more than three times a day could result in a loss of enamel.
- Gum disease, which can result in gum recession.
- A chipped or fractured tooth may expose the dentin.
In addition, some dental treatments can cause sensitivity. Treatments such as teeth whitening, professional dental cleanings, having braces put on, or getting a filling placed have been known to cause sensitivity during or after the procedure. It is not uncommon for the teeth to feel sensitive for a time after having dental treatment. However, if this persists, a dentist’s advice is recommended. The sensation caused by tooth decay (dental caries) can feel similar to tooth sensitivity. Tooth decay happens when the sugars in foods and drinks react with the bacteria in the plaque on our teeth to form acids. These acids can gradually soften and dissolve your enamel and dentine. Brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste will help to strengthen the teeth. The problem with tooth decay is that one might not feel any sensation from it until it is quite advanced. It can be managed in the early stages. Other common causes of tooth discomfort include dental abscesses and cracked teeth. It is important to visit the dentist regularly to check the health of teeth and gums.
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