Why are my Teeth Sensitive?

December 6, 2017

Ever wonder why your teeth are sensitive when you eat ice cream? Tooth sensitivity affects millions of adults in the United States. The most common cause of sensitivity is called dentinal hypersensitivity. The crown of a tooth is covered in enamel, the brighter white layer, and the root is covered in cementum. Beneath both the enamel and the cementum is the dentin, this layer shows to be more yellow. If the enamel or cementum is worn away or eroded, the dentin becomes exposed. It is the dentin that transmits the pain signal to the nerve of the tooth.

Gum recession can often expose the root surface of teeth leading to dentinal hypersensitivity. Typically, this kind of sensitivity produces a short lasting, shock or sharp pain. A number of stimulants can cause a tooth to respond in pain, but the most common are cold foods/liquids, and abrasives (coarse toothpaste or just a toothbrush). Some patients may only experience pain when their hygienist is cleaning their teeth. While it’s great that they don’t experience sensitivity on a daily basis, it is still worth treating the sensitivity. Not only does this make the experience more tolerable for you, but your hygienist can do a better job of cleaning your teeth. Please know that our hygienist wants to know if you’re experiencing any sensitivity or pain throughout your hygiene appointments.

The first line of defense is typically an over the counter sensitive toothpaste recommended by your dentist or hygienist. It is essential to consistently use the toothpaste for at least two-four weeks before you may start experiencing results. Sensitive pastes contain a desensitizing agent (usually Potassium Nitrate) that helps to block the pain signal from the dentin to the nerve. Another paste is a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste provided by your dental office. In office treatments include a fluoride varnish, which helps to strengthen teeth or gingival grafting. Gingival (gum) grafting is a surgical procedure that covers the exposed root surface thus reducing sensitivity. It’s important to note that patients experience the best results from gingival grafting if recession is treated early. Your dentist will give a referral to a periodontist for this procedure. Our local periodontist is Dr. Hong; who has taken over for Dr. Osterberg in the last two years, and we have been very impressed with his skills.

If you’re experiencing this kind of sensitivity, be sure to ask us about your treatment options. We are always here to help! Check out this short video for a brief overview.


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