Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment

When that characteristic sharp pain hits you while eating ice cream or you are downing a hot cup of coffee, it is as if someone has stabbed you with a collection of very sharp daggers. The pain can shoot right through to your forehead, or settle behind your eyes. It might not last long, but the pain caused by sensitive teeth, is among the worst.

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. More than half the world’s population have experienced the pain of sensitive teeth at some time or another. The good news is that there are treatments available for this sensitivity.

What Makes Teeth Sensitive?


What brings about that excruciating pain? Dentists know it is the result of exposure of the nerve endings in our teeth. These tiny nerve endings are inside tubes in the dentin, which is the main building block of our teeth. In healthy teeth, the dentin is covered with enamel, the hardest tissue found anywhere in our bodies, and claimed to be stronger than steel. This acts like armor on the exposed areas of the teeth, but it has a chink in it. It is extremely brittle, and subject to wear and tear in the form of thinning or cracking.

If that happens, the protection factor gets less, and the dentin and the nerve endings within it are exposed. This makes them vulnerable and sensitive. This will cause the nerve endings to react to the shock of extreme temperature, be it super-hot or icy cold. And that reaction gives you the sharp and excruciating pain.

Why Does This Happen?

Receding gums: This is one of the most common causes of sensitive teeth, and probably the most difficult to treat. However, there are ways to help, and possibly heal, the situation, especially if you catch it early. So do not delay if you have any reason to think that your gums may be receding.

As the gums pull back from the teeth, they expose the base of the teeth, and the nerve endings in them. This area of the teeth does not have an enamel coating, so with the protective shield normally provided by the gum tissue becoming less, the nerve endings are unprotected, and become very sensitive.

Thinning enamel: Exposure of the nerve endings can also happen when the enamel on the teeth thins out. This can be the result of an injury, a poor diet, or aging; as well as from grinding your teeth or brushing them too hard. Other possible causes are tooth decay, and old fillings that have started to leak.

Genetics play a large part in thinning enamel, as well as in receding gums. However, in most cases, the enamel wears thin or suffers damage because of what we do, and what happens to us, in the course of our daily lives. And this can apply to gum recession as well.

Treating receding gums

Can dentistry stop the pain? Some of these causes are easy to treat, while others may involve solutions that are more complex.

For gum recession, your dentist in Richmond will first try Scaling and Planing, a procedure aimed at deep cleaning around the roots and base of the tooth beyond the gum line. The aim is to remove any tartar build-up and smooth away any roughness. This may allow the gum to reattach itself to the newly smoothed surfaces and protect the vulnerable nerve endings.

If this method doesn’t work, it might be necessary for your dentist to refer you to a periodontist for gum grafting, or bone regeneration procedures.

What causes thinning enamel thin?

Thinning enamel can be caused by what you eat and drink; how you care for your teeth, and how you brush them. You will also have to take a cold hard look at any habits you have that endanger your gums and the enamel on your teeth.

  • Bad habits include using your teeth as a tool to open bottles or cut threads, and grinding your teeth. These are a complete no-no.
  • You will also need to try to avoid acidic beverages and sweet treats, both of which can erode the enamel.
  • Throw out the hard toothbrush, choose a softer one, and even then, use it gently when you brush your teeth. Then adopt a new oral hygiene routine based on your dentist’s advice. You might also want to switch your toothpaste for one that helps treat sensitivity.
  • Skip the clenching or grinding, or ask your dentist for a mouth guard to use when you are sleeping.

Taking these steps will help your dentist to help you with a range of treatments at his or her disposal.

How your dentist can help you

Dentists can deal with fillings, whether new, or old and leaking. They can also apply a fluoride gel or sealant to help prevent the sensitivity caused by thinning enamel and provide protection for your teeth. These are all simple procedures done in the dentist’s chair.

If your teeth are cracked or broken, the dentist will offer you a choice of procedures, including bonding on a shaped composite resin to cover the chipped or cracked area. Porcelain or composite veneers may also provide an option when bonded to the front of the tooth, while a crown replaces a damaged or broken tooth cap.

Beating the pain caused by sensitive teeth involves teamwork between you and your dentist. Try to get that teamwork going as soon as possible. The earlier you take action, the sooner you should see results, so call your dentist for an appointment right away.

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