If you are reading this, you are likely one of the many individuals with at least one sensitive tooth. A research review published in 2006 by the Journal of the American Dental Association estimated that up to 57% of the population may be experiencing sensitivity in one or more of their teeth. So, lets get right to it: what causes sensitivity in teeth?
(1) One of the leading causes of sensitivity is either loss of enamel, or recession of the gum tissue by the root of a tooth. In instances of decay (a hole through the enamel), tooth brush abrasion, or erosion from acids, the enamel is lost or weakened in a given area. The enamel is the outermost layer of tooth and acts as a barrier to temperature extremes. A similar situation arises when the gum tissue receeds exposing the root surface of the tooth. The outer covering of the root surface is thinner than the enamel on the crown (visible portion) of the tooth. When the gums no longer cover the root surface, sensitivity is likely to occur.
(2) Another common cause of tooth sensitivity is from inflamation inside the tooth. Inflamation can be caused by recent dental work, a traumatic accident, deep decay or from bite issues. A common analogy I use to help explain this situation is comparing it to a sprained ankle…it swells up (blood gathers in the area to aid in healing) and it is difficult to walk on due to injury. For a tooth, the swelling occurs inside the tooth and leads to a weakened ability to tolerate stresses like hot or cold temperatures, and sometimes even chewing.
(3) Of course we couldn’t talk about sensitive teeth without addressing the sensitivity that occurs after using whitening products. Under the outer protective surface of the tooth lies the dentin. The dentn has tiny tubules that communicate directly with the nerve of the tooth. Over time the tubules develop plugs from minerals in saliva. When we whiten our teeth, the peroxide in the whitening gel removes the stain and also dissolves these plugs, creating a clear path for cold temperatures to illicit a response from the nerve of the tooth. After a period of time, the minerals in saliva reform these plugs.
As you can see, there are numerous causes of sensitivity. So, next time you catch yourself eating only on one side of your mouth, or deciding not to have ice cream because it makes your teeth hurt, know that sensitivity is quite common and there are solutions to reduce or remove the discomfort. Could the solution be as simple as using a new a specific toothpaste? Find out in our next blog.
Brandon Helgeson DDS
The Journal of the American Dental Association. July 1, 2006. Vol. 137 no. 7, 990-998.