Have you ever been enjoying a cup of coffee or a bowl of ice cream and suddenly experienced a horrible throbbing pain in your jaw? If so, you probably hope that it never happens again. Unfortunately, if you have sensitive teeth this may be an experience that you know all too well. You may also know that it does happen again and again and again. This unfortunate pain in your jaw is known as tooth sensitivity and it affects around as many as 40 million Americans.
Although it may be comforting to know that you’re not alone, you still probably want to find a way to make your tooth sensitivity go away. After all, tooth sensitivity can prevent you from enjoying your favorite foods and drinks. Before trying to eliminate tooth sensitivity, however, we must first look deeper into what it is and what causes it. Only by understanding more about tooth sensitivity will you be able to take the steps necessary to eliminate or reduce it.
First and foremost, tooth sensitivity occurs when stimuli from hot, cold, sticky, or acidic foods/beverages are able to travel past the enamel into the underlying tooth layers. Directly below the enamel layer, is the dentin layer, which is porous and contains microscopic tunnels leading directly to the center of the tooth. Within the center of the tooth, resides the tooth nerve. When the enamel is compromised, stimuli flows into the dentin layer and through the tunnels to reach the nerve. The unpleasant sensation you feel is a result of the nerve being irritated by the stimuli.
Although enamel is the strongest substance in the human body, it can become damaged and is the last effective against protecting the tooth when this happens. For example, the enamel can be eroded by bacteria that cause tooth decay. When this happens, it creates a tunnel of decay leading directly through the enamel and into the dentin. However, stimuli can also enter the tooth when the tooth has been fractured or when a filling needs to be replaced and is no longer sealed properly. Some people also have thinner enamel than others, which makes them more susceptible to tooth sensitivity. Finally, tooth enamel also wears down over time, making tooth sensitivity more likely.
Ultimately, relieving tooth sensitivity is accomplished by identifying the cause and seeking the necessary treatment. For example, tooth sensitivity caused by a cavity or a fractured tooth requires that the affected tooth be fully restored. Once this happens, the tooth sensitivity should resolve itself. However, in other cases alleviating tooth sensitivity is not this simple. In these cases, you may need to try some additional methods. Here are some of the top tooth sensitivity solutions that you can try:
Altering your brushing technique
While this may not help to completely eliminate your tooth sensitivity, it will prevent it from getting worse. Oftentimes people tend to brush their teeth too hard with the belief that it makes the teeth cleaner. Unfortunately, all this does is wear down your enamel faster and contribute to tooth sensitivity. Be sure while brushing your teeth that you use a soft bristled toothbrush and firm, gentle pressure.
Another great way to help reduce tooth sensitivity is to use a desensitizing toothpaste. This is a special type of toothpaste that contains specific ingredients to ward off to sensitivity. Desensitizing toothpastes contain stannous fluoride, which helps to strengthen the enamel, as well as potassium nitrate, which is used to plug the tunnels within the dentin layer in order to prevent stimuli from reaching the tooth’s nerve. It may take a week or two to notice results, however most people do experience some relief.
Try cosmetic dentistry
There are some cosmetic dental treatments that can actually be beneficial in the treatment of tooth sensitivity. Cosmetic bonding is commonly used to add a barrier over areas of thin enamel in order to protect the tooth. When multiple teeth are affected, veneers may also be an ideal option since they also act as a barrier between the natural tooth and external stimuli. In cases where the affected tooth is towards the back of the mouth or the enamel on the chewing surface is worn down, then inlays, onlays, or dental crowns may be recommended.
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.