Many adults suffer from sensitive teeth and dentine hypersensitivity. Sensitivity can be discomfort in one or more teeth; the pain can be sharp, sudden and shoot into the nerve endings of your teeth. Sensitivity can be triggered by hot, cold, sweet food or liquids and even inhaling cold air through your mouth.

What causes sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth occur when the underlying layer of your teeth, called dentin, becomes exposed. The dentin contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). The dentine is protected by the hard layer of enamel on the crown of the tooth, and cementum on the root of the tooth. When dentine loses its protective covering. The roots, which are not covered by hard enamel, contain thousands of tiny tubules leading to the tooth’s nerve centre (the pulp).When the dentine loses its protective covering, the tubules allow stimuli such as heat and cold, or acidic or sweet foods to stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth. This may cause hypersensitivity resulting in pain and discomfort.

Contributing factors for sensitive teeth

There are many factors that may lead to sensitive teeth including:

  • Gum Recession
  • Tooth brush wear and abrasion
  • Erosion
  • Cracked teeth
  • Grinding teeth
  • Attrition- wear on the chewing surfaces of the teeth
  • Decay
  • Tooth whitening products
  • Pulpitis- inflammation of the nerve

Treating Sensitive Teeth

Proper oral hygiene is an important step in preventing and treating tooth sensitivity. Make sure you always use a soft brush to clean your teeth, be thorough but not aggressive. Have a sensible diet avoiding highly acidic foods and beverages, and have regular dental checkups.

Sensitive teeth can be treated; however treatment will vary depending on the cause. Dentine hypersensitivity can usually be treated with desensitizing agents applied to the tooth regularly. These desensitizing agents such as special toothpastes, or other products, usually contain compounds that occlude or block the tubules sealing them so that the stimulus sensation doesn’t travel from the tooth surface to the nerve.

If these desensitizing agents do not work, or the cause is more serious, other treatment may be required such as bonding a filling to the surface to replace the enamel worn away, removing decay and filling the cavity or replacing an existing filling. If the nerve has become involved through infection or pulpitis, sometimes a root canal treatment may be required.