Tooth sensitivity occurs when the underlying layer of your teeth - the dentin - becomes exposed. Dentine contains little tunnels (tubules) that link to the nerves on the inside of the tooth. When dentine is exposed, these nerves are easily stimulated resulting in pain, especially to cold drinks, food, and air as well as physical pressure, heat, sweet and sour foods.
There are many factors that may lead to the development of tooth sensitivity such as brushing too hard, recession of the gums, cracked teeth or fillings, teeth grinding, tooth whitening products, acid erosion or cavities.
Toothbrush and/or toothpaste damage may be the most frequent cause of sensitivity of otherwise healthy teeth. Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed. It can also cause recession of the gums (the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth) where the roots get exposed.
What can dentists do about sensitive teeth?
Check with your dentist to determine the cause of the sensitivity.
Depending on the cause, your dentist may be able to paint special fluoride varnishes onto the affected teeth. There are also other sensitivity products that can be used.
In cases of extreme sensitivity, your dentist can seal or put bonding around the neck of the tooth, to cover exposed dentine.
If you grind your teeth, ask your dentist about the possibility of having a mouth guard made to wear at night.
What can I do about sensitive teeth? To prevent further damage, brush your teeth gently and avoid abrasive toothpaste.
Desensitizing agents such as Sensodyne tooth paste work by blocking off the dentinal tubules, so that the nerves don’t get stimulated. They work a lot better by gently massaging the paste or gel into the sore spot with a finger. Do not rinse it off. It may take several weeks before the desired effect is achieved. When sensitivity has subsided then it can be used as regular tooth paste.
Using fluoride containing mouthwash also can help. Use it just before bed and do not rinse.