When the weather gets warmer in the summer, many people look to cold treats to help them cool off. For some, however, cold treats like ice cream, smoothies, and popsicles can cause a sudden, deep pain in one or more teeth. Unfortunately, this usually takes away the enjoyment of eating a cold treat on a hot summer’s day. If this sounds like something that has happened to you, then you may be affected by tooth hypersensitivity.
Tooth hypersensitivity, sometimes known simply as tooth sensitivity, is characterized by a painful response to foods and beverages that are hot, cold, or sweet. It can be experienced as a deep, sudden pain in the tooth or even in the jaw. The reason for this pain is due to exposure of the tooth’s nerve, which reacts when exposed to hot and cold temperatures, as well as extremely sweet substances.
The tooth’s nerve resides in the dental pulp, which is the innermost layer of the tooth. The dentin layer sits above the pulp layer and both layers are protected by the tooth’s enamel, or outermost layer. When the enamel is compromised by decay, gum recession, a faulty restoration, or excess wear, this means the dentin layer is no longer protected. The dentin layer is porous, meaning that it has several thousand microscopic holes that each contain nerve endings. When these nerve endings come in contact with hot, cold, or sweet substances, this irritates the nerves and causes pain.
In some cases, tooth sensitivity can be a symptom of a larger dental problem, for example a cavity, pulp infection, or leaky dental restoration. In other cases, however, tooth sensitivity may simply indicate that your enamel has worn down. Enamel naturally wears down over time, however certain things, like acidic foods, grinding and clenching your teeth, and tooth damage can cause it to wear down faster.
Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help manage the painful sensation associated with tooth sensitivity. Although these things may not eliminate your symptoms entirely, they should help alleviate some of the discomfort:
There are certain types of toothpastes that are formulated specifically for people who have sensitive teeth. These sensitivity toothpastes do not use ingredients that are known for irritating the teeth, such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Instead, they use ingredients that have been found to help with sensitivity symptoms by filling up the microscopic holes in the dentin layer. This prevents the nerve irritation that results in pain. Toothpaste ingredients that reduce tooth sensitivity include: stannous fluoride, strontium chloride, and potassium nitrate.
Most dentists perform some type of fluoride treatment after every teeth cleaning, so staying caught up on your cleanings is an easy way to have your teeth treated with fluoride. However, if you have sensitive teeth, your dentist may recommend applying fluoride more frequently to help with symptoms. This is because fluoride helps to mineralize the enamel, which makes it stronger.
If you have gum recession, chances are your tooth sensitivity is due to your exposed tooth roots, since tooth roots contain little to no enamel. In these cases, your dentist may suggest bonding composite resin to the tooth to cover the exposed roots or worn enamel. By bonding composite resin to your natural tooth structure, it can act as enamel usually would by protecting the tooth.
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.