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ToothSensitivityCouldBeaSignofDeeperProblems

If you wince in pain while eating or drinking something hot or cold, you’re not alone: tooth sensitivity afflicts one in three Americans. To understand what’s possibly going on, let’s look first at tooth anatomy.

Teeth are mainly composed of three layers: an outer protective enamel that covers the upper crown, a middle layer called dentin and an inner pulp. The dentin is composed of small tubules that transmit outer temperature and pressure sensations to nerves in the pulp.

The enamel serves as a “muffler,” damping sensations to protect the nerves from overload. In the root area, the gums and a thin material called cementum covering the roots also help muffle sensation.

But sometimes teeth can lose this muffling effect and the nerves encounter the full brunt of the sensations. The most common reason is gum recession, usually caused by periodontal (gum) disease. The gums have shrunk back or “receded,” and after a short while the cementum covering will also be lost, exposing the dentin in the root area.

Another problem is enamel erosion caused by mouth acid. Chronic high acidity, often caused by bacterial growth or acidic foods and beverages, can dissolve the enamel’s mineral content, causing decay and exposure as well of the underlying dentin.

To avoid future tooth sensitivity, it pays to prevent these two dental problems. The most important thing you can do is practice daily brushing and flossing to reduce bacterial plaque and see your dentist regularly for dental cleanings and checkups.

But if you’re already experiencing symptoms, you’ll first need an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If it’s related to gum disease, immediate treatment could help stop or even reverse any gum recession. To address enamel erosion, your dentist may be able to protect and strengthen your teeth with sealants and topical fluoride.

There are also things you and your dentist can do to reduce your symptoms. One is for you to use hygiene products with fluoride, which can take the edge off of sensitivity, or potassium, which helps reduce nerve activity. Your dentist can further reduce nerve sensitivity by blocking the tubules with sealants and bonding agents.

Tooth sensitivity is an irritating problem in itself; more importantly, though, it’s often a warning of something else seriously wrong that needs attention. If you’re feeling a little sensitive in the teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible.

If you would like more information on tooth sensitivity, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Treatment of Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding Your Options.”