Tooth sensitivity is a general term for dentine hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. If hot, cold, sweet, or very acidic foods and drinks, or breathing in cold air make your teeth sensitive or painful, then your teeth will be sensitive.
Is tooth sensitivity common?
Yes, tooth sensitivity is very common, and there is an estimation that about half of the population suffers from tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity will change over time.
Why does tooth sensitivity (dentin hypersensitivity) occur?
Tooth sensitivity is usually caused by the dentin exposed in the root area due to gum recession or periodontal disease. Gum recession is very common. By the age of 65, as many as four-fifths of people will experience gum recession. When the root of the tooth is exposed, it has no enamel layer like a crown. Instead, the root has a very soft covering called cementum, which, once lost, will expose the dentin of the root.
Excessive brushing or the use of very abrasive toothpaste can also cause the tooth enamel surface to wear and expose the dentin. Highly acidic eating habits-for example, a diet that contains a lot of citrus foods, pickles, or soda-can cause tooth corrosion and dissolve the tooth surface, thereby exposing the dentin. Bulimia and GERD can also cause tooth erosion and sensitivity due to the acid in the mouth.
It is very important to discuss this with your dentist or hygienist if you have any sensitive teeth so that he or she can check your mouth to see what the actual problem is and help you choose the best treatment. When teeth are sensitive, brushing can be painful; if you brush your teeth poorly due to pain, the risk of tooth decay and gum disease is greater. Pain after hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages may also be a sign of tooth decay. If this is the case then your dentist will give you fillings or other treatments.
What makes exposed dentin painful?
Dentin contains thousands of tiny channels that can only be seen under a microscope. These channels start from the surface and pass through the dentin to reach the nerve center of the tooth-the pulp. These channels contain liquid. After eating or drinking hot or cold food, the liquid in these tiny channels will move and stimulate the nerves in the teeth, causing pain.
Can I prevent tooth hypersensitivity?
By maintaining good oral hygiene, you can reduce the chance of tooth sensitivity, which helps prevent gum and periodontal disease from receding. Follow the recommendations of your dentist or hygienist to properly brush and floss your teeth, and use low-wear toothpaste to help reduce the chance of tooth sensitivity. A non-acid diet also helps in preventing tooth hypersensitivity.
What to do if you have sensitive teeth?
If the cause is not dentin (root) hypersensitivity, and the teeth are sensitive due to more serious problems, it is also important to tell your dentist or hygienist. To treat tooth sensitivity, your dentist or hygienist may recommend that you use a low-wear toothpaste specially made for sensitive teeth.