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Introduction: What is teeth sensitivity?

Have you ever flinched or yelled out while eating an ice cream or having a hot cup of tea or coffee? Well, the sudden pain or discomfort you experienced is termed as teeth sensitivity. Also called ‘Dentinal hypersensitivity’ in dental terms, teeth sensitivity occurs in response to hot or cold stimuli. This can be an acute or a chronic problem and can result from a variety of causes. A large majority of the world’s population suffers from teeth sensitivity.

When Do Your Teeth Become Sensitive?

To know understand this, we must know about the structure and layers in our teeth. Each tooth in our mouth is made up of three layers– the outer enamel(in the crown) and cementum(in root), the middle dentine and the innermost pulp. The pulp layer contains nerves and blood vessels. The dentinal layer contains microscopic tubules that contain the extensions of these nerves from the pulpal layer and a fluid with mechanoreceptors. Whenever the fluid in these tubules is irritated, the mechanoreceptors trigger the nerve endings in the tubules, eliciting sensitivity and pain, as the case may be.

These receptors are triggered due to various environmental factors like cold and hot foods, cold air, sour food, air pressure, cold and hot drinks. However, these receptors are triggered only when the dentinal tubules are exposed i.e., the enamel layer on your tooth is lost.

Some common causes of dentinal exposure are:

  • Excessively hard brushing
  • Using a hard bristle brush
  • Improper brushing technique
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Cavities that are left untreated
  • An old filling with leakage
  • Gum recession that exposes the tooth root
  • Gum surgery that results in tooth exposure
  • Occupational causes that result in notching of teeth (seen in tailors, cobblers, etc.,)
  • Frequent consumption of acidic foods and drinks
  • Teeth sensitivity after teeth whitening treatment
  • Sensitivity following a dental filling

Dentinal hypersensitivity usually occurs in 2 or more teeth, whereas sensitivity in the pulp usually affects only one tooth.

How is Teeth Sensitivity Diagnosed?

If you experience teeth sensitivity, you must visit your dentist immediately. All our dentists at Sabka Dentist clinics are well-trained at diagnosing and treating teeth sensitivity.

When you arrive at the clinic, the dentist will evaluate your teeth and take a proper history of your brushing and other habits. X-rays may be taken to diagnose if your teeth sensitivity is due to tooth cavities or other gum and bone issues. 

Based on your symptoms, your hypersensitivity will be diagnosed as mild, moderate, or severe.

How is Teeth Sensitivity Treated?

Teeth sensitivity is easy to treat, no matter the cause of the problem. The first step to treating your teeth sensitivity is to do a full-mouth teeth cleaning(scaling). If you feel excessive sensitivity, your dentist will apply a local anesthetic in the area.

There are three ways your teeth sensitivity can be treated:

  1. Obstruction of your dentinal tubules
  2. De-sensitizing the nerve fibers or blocking their transmission
  3. Altering of dentinal tubules using lasers

If your teeth sensitivity is mild, your dentist will prescribe an over-the-counter toothpaste, gel or a mouth rinse. These products usually have de-sensitizing agents that block the nerve impulse and reduce sensitivity. Mouth washes, if prescribed, are usually non-alcoholic in nature.

If your teeth sensitivity does not resolve with OTC products, your dentist will suggest prescription products that should improve your condition in a week. In some cases, your dentist will also apply fluoride gel, sealant, or other de-sensitizing agents in-office. These products help in reducing your sensitivity as well as strengthen the enamel of your teeth.

While your dentist resolves your teeth sensitivity, it is also important to attend to the cause of the same.

  • If your teeth sensitivity is due to a gum problem, a gum specialist will be called in to treat it.
  • In cases where there is extensive loss of enamel from teeth, a crown, or onlay will be advised to reduce the sensitivity.
  • If your teeth sensitivity causes excessive pain, a root canal procedure followed by dental crown placement may be advised.
  • If your teeth sensitivity is due to clenching or grinding of teeth, you will be given a mouth guard to protect further loss of enamel from the surfaces of your teeth.

Is it Teeth Sensitivity or a Cavity?

A thorough oral evaluation and x-rays are helpful in determining if your sensitivity is a result of a cavity or a general hypersensitivity issue resulting from loss of enamel. In the case of a cavity, the type of pain is often slightly prolonged whereas, with hypersensitivity, the pain is usually transient and appears only on application of stimuli.

When teeth sensitivity and associated pain occurs on exposure to hot drinks or food, it is a cavity that has exposed the pulp of the tooth and requires a root canal treatment.

Teeth sensitivity is very easily preventable. Here is what you need to do to avoid it:

  • Use a medium or soft-bristled brush. Use gentle, light strokes while brushing.
  • Avoid eating excessive acidic foods.
  • Stop clenching or grinding your teeth. Your dentist will provide you with a mouthguard to prevent your teeth from grinding against each other.
  • Avoid teeth whitening procedures until your sensitivity issue has been resolved.
  • Opt for a gum surgery if your receding gums are the cause of your teeth sensitivity.
  • Get a routine bi-yearly teeth cleaning done by your dentist as it helps to remove plaque, deposits and calculus, that can be a cause for gum recession and subsequent teeth sensitivity issue.
  • Replace a cracked filling or get your cracked tooth restored with a filling or crown by your dentist.
  • If your teeth sensitivity is a result of a medical condition like acidity or GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disorder), you must visit your physician for treatment of the same.

Teeth sensitivity is a very common dental problem. Once the cause of the sensitivity is identified, it is very easily treatable. If you or anyone you know is facing from this sensitive problem, visit your nearest Sabka Dentist clinic today for an accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Expert's Opinions

  • Dr. Manan Dhulia Dental Director of Sabka dentist says “• Teeth sensitivity is usually a sharp, sudden pain in your teeth triggered by cold or hot foods. It is usually temporary and transient in nature.”
  • Dr. Priyanka Shingore Dental Director of Sabka dentist says ”• Eating excessive acidic foods, improper brushing technique, and other reasons can wear out enamel and expose your dentinal tubules. These are common causes of teeth sensitivity.”
  • Dr. Jena Shah Dental Director of Sabka dentist says “• Teeth sensitivity can be easily controlled using desensitizing toothpaste, sealants, and gum grafting procedures."

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the causes and remedies for teeth sensitivity?

Teeth sensitivity or Dentin Hypersensitivity is dental pain arising from exposed dentin surfaces in response to any stimuli like thermal, chemical, electric, etc.

Following are the main causes:

  • Gingival Recession (Receding gums) that exposes root surfaces, results in loss of cementum layer and tooth wear
  • Tooth erosion caused by GERD, Bulimia or Excessive consumption of acidic foods and drinks
  • Faulty brushing technique resulting in Dental Abrasion
  • Chronic Periodontitis/Gum Disease
  • Fractured tooth
  • Worn out fillings/ Dislodged restoration
  • Teeth clenching habit/ Bruxism
  • Dental bleaching
  • Smoking tobacco

Dentin layer of a tooth contains thousands of dentinal tubules which have plasma like fluid. Changes in the flow of this fluid can trigger mechanoreceptors present on nerves at the pulpal aspect. This triggers transient, intense pain. Changes in hydrodynamic flow of this fluid is stimulated by cold, sour, air pressure, drying, sugar, etc

Following are the remedies:
Teeth Sensitivity is treated by either obtunding these dentinal tubules (varnishes/ resins/ toothpastes) or desensitization of nerve fibers/blocking neural transmission ( potassium nitrate). Silver Diammine Fluoride has proved to be most effective. Also, gingival erosion and cervical tooth wear can be avoided with healthy oral hygiene and dietary practices. Proper brushing technique (Modified Stillman’s or Modified Bass Technique).

What is the best toothpaste for teeth sensitivity?

GC Tooth Mousse Plus is the most effective and should be used if directed by the dentist. It contains fluoride and CPC – ACP that buffers free calcium and phosphate ions to maintain supersaturated state that inhibits demineralization and promotes remineralization.

Sensodyne is also effective as it contains potassium nitrate. The potassium ion hyperpolarizes the nerve and stops it from firing. The nerve impulses are thus desensitized and there is no pain.

What does sensitive teeth feel like?

Pain of Sensitivity is sharp and sudden. It is triggered by several factors, with cold stimuli being the most common. Triggers include cold and hot foods and drinks, cold air, coolant jet of water from dental instrument, scaling and root planing, hypertonic sugary solutions, air blast from dental instrument, acidic etch, gastric acid reflux, etc.

How do you tell if you have cavity or just sensitive teeth?

Clinical dental examination and Radiographs can be instrumental in the diagnosis of the condition. However, it should be known that the nature of pain is different for both sensitivity and cavitations. Sensitivity pain is transient and intense and is only triggered by certain stimuli. Pain due to caries varies. It can be continuous, dull, radiating, intense, etc, depending upon the extent and duration of caries.

How to stop sensitive teeth pain?

  • Use of desensitizing tooth paste.
  • Use of soft bristled brush.
  • Avoid food that is highly acidic in nature.
  • Use of fluoridated mouth wash.
  • Use of mouthguard in case of teeth clenching/bruxism habit.
  • Use of fluoride gel or varnish.
  • Bonding Treatment, Crown Restoration or Inlay Restoration, if directed by dentists.
  • Gum augmentation periodontal surgery for root coverage.

Can teeth sensitivity go away?

Tooth Sensitivity never completely disappears, unless its cause is addressed and treated.