Tooth sensitivity is commonplace Print E-mail
Friday, 25 January 2008

Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common complaints among dental patients. The most common cause is stimulation of cells within the dentinal tubules. Dentinal tubules are tiny tubes located on the dentin (the layer of tissue found beneath the hard enamel that contains the pulp).

When the enamel is worn or the gums have receded it may cause the dentinal tubules to be exposed. Eating or drinking food and beverages that are hot or cold, by touching the teeth, or exposing them to cold air, can cause pain. Hot and cold temperature changes can cause the teeth to expand and contract, causing the teeth to develop microscopic cracks.

The cracks can allow the sensations to seep through to the nerves. Eating ice cream can be a painful experience for people with sensitive teeth. Some brands of toothpaste may contain abrasive ingredients that are too harsh for people with sensitive teeth.

The ingredients found in whitening toothpastes that lighten or remove stains may also cause tooth sensitivity. Sodium pyrophosphate, the key ingredient in tartar-control toothpaste may also increase tooth sensitivity. About 10 to 20 percent of patients who use tartar-control toothpaste complain of sensitivity.

Tooth bleaching has also been associated with tooth sensitivity. If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days, you may wish to get a diagnostic evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem.

Sensitivity may be defined as a short, sharp pain, which is usually initiated by hot of cold foods or exposure to cold air. Aching often follows. Sensitivity may mean different things to a patient and a dentist. Pain symptoms can be similar, and some people may think that they have tooth sensitivity when they actually have a cavity or infected tooth.

An accurate diagnosis is important for effective treatment. If you have intense cold sensitivity that lingers for several minutes after removing the source of cold temperature, that is a sign of an infected tooth nerve.

Tooth pain that is relieved by cold is also a sign of a more severe dental problem that will require the attention of your dentist. Be sure to tell the dentist exactly what you feel, when the pain started, and if anything relieves the pain.

There are a variety of methods for managing tooth hypersensitivity. Using a brand of toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth can reduce it. These toothpastes contain potassium nitrate or strontium chloride, substances that close up the dentinal tubules.

In most cases, these products must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before any therapeutic benefit is noticed. Your dentist may apply a sealant or other desensitizing material to the tooth to coat the tooth and seal up the dentinal tubules. Fluoride has also been shown to decrease sensitivity. You should avoid using a hard or medium bristled toothbrush, which can wear down the root surface and expose sensitive spots.

Tooth sensitivity affects at least 45 million Americans. Although we can not always eliminate all tooth sensitivity, we have many tools at our disposal to help with the problem. (Editor's note: Mikaloff is the Fort Leonard Wood Dental Activity commander.)

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 January 2008 )