Since childhood you’ve been taught the importance of brushing and flossing and excellent oral hygiene. For someone who has sensitive teeth, however, sometimes this is easier said than done. The American Dental Association recommends two-minute brushing sessions at least twice daily, but following through with this regimen is difficult when it causes you pain. Dr. Ryan Hussong, your Alleman, IA dentist, offers insight into the causes of and treatments for tooth sensitivity.
Why Are My Teeth So Sensitive?
To answer this question, it helps to understand the different types of sensitivity, which include sensitivity to sweets, touch, pressure, and temperature. In most cases sensitivity indicates that the tooth has sustained trauma, decay, or heavier than normal wear. Not everyone experiences the same degree of pain, with some reporting a mild ache and others describing a sharp, sudden pain.
We categorize sensitivity as either dentinal or pulpal. Your teeth have three layers: the protective enamel covering, the middle layer, called dentin, and the innermost chamber. At the core of this chamber is the pulp, a mass of nerves and tissue. Dentinal sensitivity occurs when the enamel has been eroded or damaged, exposing the dentin beneath. Without the protection of enamel, tiny nerve branches extending from the pulp are exposed, making you more sensitive to temperature and certain foods. Dentinal sensitivity usually affects multiple teeth at once. The most common causes of exposed dentin include:
- Damage caused by grinding your teeth, or bruxism
- Neglecting to seek treatment for cavities
- Receding gums, usually caused by periodontal disease
- Brushing with too much force, or using a hard-bristled toothbrush
- A buildup of plaque around the root of the tooth
- Excessive tooth whitening
Pulpal sensitivity, on the other hand, usually affects only one tooth at a time. Causes include cavities or infections, damage caused by long-term teeth grinding, or a tooth that has been broken or cracked, whether as the result of an injury or by tooth decay.
How Do You Treat Sensitive Teeth?
Because sensitivity is caused by damage to the tooth, the goal is to strengthen the tooth and restore its function. Dr. Hussong treats sensitivity in one of two ways. For mild sensitivity, he may recommend fluoride treatments or supplements, such as fluoride toothpaste or a fluoridated mouth rinse. Fluoride fortifies the enamel and prevents the dentin from exposure. If decay or trauma has damaged the tooth beyond repair, restorative dentistry may be necessary. A severe infection within the tooth may warrant a root canal treatment followed by placement of dental crowns, while a simple filling is usually sufficient for cavities. Dental bonding and porcelain veneers are also available; both cover the tooth and protect the dentin.
Do you have sensitive teeth? To learn more about treating sensitivity, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Ryan Hussong, contact our Alleman dentist office at (515) 984-6001. We welcome patients living in Ankeny, Ames, Des Moines, Polk City, and the surrounding areas.