Caring for Sensitive Teeth

Tooth sensitivity affects millions of Americans.  It causes many people to avoid certain foods like ice cream or drink beverages at room temperature.  You should know that you do not have to live with sensitive teeth!  We can help.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

There are several different causes of sensitive teeth.  When searching for the specific cause of someone’s sensitive teeth, the dentist must explore and rule out a few different possibilities.

Healthy Teeth vs. Unhealthy Teeth

First, your dentist must determine if the sensitive tooth is healthy or unhealthy.  The two unhealthy causes of sensitive teeth are cavities and cracks.  In order to rule out these two dental problems, your dentist will perform a thorough evaluation of the sensitive tooth including x-rays, visual evaluation, and testing for cracks.  If cavities or cracks exist, then dental work is necessary to fix those problems.  The dental work should resolve the sensitivity.

Once your dentist confirms that there are no unhealthy teeth contributing to the sensitivity, it is time to look at the possible causes of sensitivity on healthy teeth.

Gum Recession and Hypersensitive Nerves

Even when teeth are technically healthy, they can be sensitive.  There are generally two reasons for healthy teeth being sensitive.

  1. Gum Recession – When the gum tissue around a tooth recedes, it exposes the root of the tooth to all the changing temperatures in the mouth. The root of a tooth does not have enamel covering it.  Enamel is a hard, protective shell around the weaker and more porous core of the tooth.  Without enamel, the hot and cold sensations in the mouth reach the nerve more easily.
  2. Hypersensitive Nerves – In certain cases, the nerve inside a tooth can become hypersensitive. Basically, it overreacts to normal stimuli.  A few surprising things that cause nerve hypersensitivity are teeth grinding and sinus pressure.  Because they irritate the nerves, the threshold for sensitivity is lowered.  An inflamed or irritated nerve is a sensitive nerve.

What Can the Dentist do about Sensitive Teeth?

After determining the cause of your tooth sensitivity, your dentist can give you several options to alleviate it.  This list includes some of the most common options to treat sensitive teeth.  We’ve listed them in order from most conservative to least.

  • Prescription Anti-Sensitivity Toothpaste

One of the most conservative and simple ways to treat sensitive teeth is to change your toothpaste! Your dentist can prescribe a toothpaste that has a high concentration of fluoride.  Fluoride is a natural mineral that strengthens all of the hard structure of a tooth.  Be careful, though.  You should only  use this toothpaste as prescribed and keep it out of the reach of children!

  • Professional Fluoride Varnish

A fluoride varnish treats sensitivity in the same mechanism of action as the prescription toothpaste. The difference is that a fluoride varnish has a very high concentration of fluoride that contacts the exact area of sensitivity.  A fluoride varnish packs a punch and gives one big dose of fluoride onto the sensitive tooth.  Unlike the prescription toothpaste that you use every day, we use fluoride varnishes on a quarterly basis to get the most sensitivity relief.  Come in every three months for a quick fluoride varnish treatment for sensitive teeth.

  • Application of De-Sensitizing Agent

There are a few professional dental materials that work wonders for tooth sensitivity. Different dentists like different desensitizers, so you need to check with your dentist to find out which one is available.  The two most popular are Gluma and SDF.  Gluma works to treat sensitivity by plugging the microscopic pores on the root of a tooth.  These pores allow temperatures to reach the nerve.  By blocking the pores with Gluma, the nerve “feels” less.  Silver Diamine Fluoride (SDF) has a similar mechanism of action, blocking pores, and has the added benefit of fighting cavities, too!  These materials work best to fight tooth sensitivity when your dentist applies them at least once a year.

  • Insulating Filling

If you have already tried the more conservative treatment options and still experience tooth sensitivity, you may need dental work. In cases of gum recession, your dentist can cover the exposed root with a tooth colored filling to seal the microscopic pores.  While this is the least conservative treatment listed here, it is still relatively conservative.  Your dentist does not have to remove any healthy tooth structure for this filling.  He or she simply covers and seals the sensitive area of the tooth.

What Can I do at Home about Sensitive Teeth?

There are multiple over-the-counter products aimed at alleviating the discomfort of sensitive teeth.  They are inexpensive and worth a try.  If they do not help, you can proceed with treatment from your local Premier dentist.

Over-the-Counter Products

Many oral hygiene brands offer a line of toothpastes to soothe the pain of sensitive teeth.  The most common active ingredient is potassium nitrate.  This chemical relieves sensitivity when used consistently.  It is very important to understand that the relief will not be instant.  You must use these types of toothpaste every time you brush for at least two weeks before you notice an improvement.

Another active ingredient that helps alleviate sensitive teeth is nano-hydroxyapatite.  This is less common and more difficult to find.  This ingredient strengthens enamel and dentin to fight both cavities and sensitivity.  You can order Canadian or Japanese brands of toothpaste containing nano-hydroxyapatite on Amazon.com.

What to Avoid

If you suffer from sensitive teeth, you need to avoid anything that can irritate the nerves inside the teeth or weaken the enamel.  Until you get your sensitivity under control, follow these rules for protecting your teeth:

  1. No Whitening Toothpastes – Whitening toothpastes use abrasive particles to polish the external surface of the teeth. This creates a sandpaper effect, and over time, can weaken the enamel.  Thinner enamel = more sensitivity.
  2. No Acidic Drinks – Just like whitening toothpastes thin the enamel, so does acid by means of erosion. Avoid low pH beverages like sodas, sports drinks, sparkling water, and any citrus juices.  Acid is so damaging to the teeth that we even see effects of enamel-thinning from patients with severe acid reflux.
  3. No Teeth Whitening – Whitening products containing hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide cause a temporary irritation of the nerves inside the teeth. If your teeth are already sensitive, do not add to the irritation by whitening.  Wait until your sensitivity is under control before attempting to whiten your teeth.
  4. Treat Teeth Grinding – If you clench or grind your teeth, you should ask your dentist about a professional nightguard. Constant grinding or clenching forces on the teeth leads to irritated nerves and sensitivity.  By wearing a protective nightguard, you remove those harmful forces and allow your nerves to settle down.

More Questions about Sensitive Teeth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location today to schedule a consultation with one of our dental experts.  Both our dental hygienists and our dentists can answer any question you have about sensitive teeth.