Have you ever felt a sharp, sudden tooth pain when eating ice cream, lemon or really hot soup? If so, you experienced a common problem known as dentine hypersensitivity – or sensitive teeth.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Before describing the main causes of sensitive teeth, here is a quick review of the anatomy of a tooth. A tooth is covered by a protective layer, the enamel. Underneath the enamel is the dentin (ivory). Located in the centre of the tooth is the pulp, which contains many nerve endings. In most cases, tooth sensitivity occurs when the dentin is exposed.
That’s because dentin is connected to the living part of the tooth – the pulp – through a series of small channels (tubules) filled with fluid and nerve endings. Hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods can move the fluid in these tubules, which stimulates the nerve endings, causing sharp pain.
The causes of tooth sensitivity can be divided into two major categories:
1. Damaged enamel due to:
- Overly abrasive toothpaste
- Excessively hard toothbrush bristles
- Forceful or horizontal tooth brushing
- A diet too rich in acidic foods (citrus fruit, soft drinks, tomatoes, etc.)
- Bruxism (teeth grinding)
- Repeated vomiting (e.g. due to a stomach flu), which causes stomach acids to reach the teeth
- Excessive wear of teeth caused by eating hard foods, for example
2. Receding gums due to:
- An inefficient tooth brushing technique
- Poor oral hygiene
- Certain types of dental care procedures (e.g. fillings)
- Gingivitis (inflammation, infection of the gums)
- Certain drugs (antipsychotics, calcium blockers)
Prevention and treatment
To prevent the onset of tooth sensitivity or limit its impact, you can:
- Learn the proper brushing technique.
- Use a soft-bristle toothbrush.
- Use toothpaste or mouthwash for sensitive teeth .
- After eating acidic foods (or after vomiting), wait 30 minutes before brushing your teeth (since the acid weakens enamel).
- If you grind your teeth, wear a mouth guard at night.
There is a relatively wide range of solutions and treatment options available for sensitive teeth. In addition to special toothpastes and mouthwashes, there are various dental or medical procedures, depending on the severity of the problem:
- Application of a protective varnish over teeth
- Use of a bonding agent or sealant
- Reconstruction of the enamel using a composite resin preparation
- Root canal (removal of the pulp)
- Gum graft
Your family pharmacists can give you advice on the various prescription and over-the-counter desensitizing products available. Don’t hesitate to ask them for help!