Tooth Sensitivity Get to the Root of the Problem

So there you are, minding your own business and drinking your usual, a Grande Mocha Decaf Iced Frappuccino.  Then all of a sudden, “Ouch!”  Your tooth feels really sensitive.  So you drink and chew on the other side of your mouth, hoping the sensitivity doesn’t return.  What does this mean?  Should you call your dentist?  Should you just get toothpaste for sensitivity and consider yourself healed?

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) states that sensitive teeth are one of the most common complaints at the dental office, and at least 45 million adults suffer at some time from it.  A tooth is normally protected from sensitivity by a layer of hard enamel on its surface, or by gums over its root.  Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel is worn away or gums recede, causing the dentin to be exposed.  The microscopic, nerve-filled tube-like structures within each tooth (“tubules”) are exposed to temperature and air, and a feeling of sensitivity results.

Tooth sensitivity may occur when your teeth come in contact with cold, hot, sweet or sour substances.  In addition, pain when chewing, tooth brushing, or even sensitivity to breathing air may have more underlying causes that can be problematic.  Many people try their best to ignore this sensitivity, and just chew on the opposite side.  It’s important to let your dentist know of these symptoms so he or she may assess your situation and prevent a potential problem from becoming progressively worse.


There are various reasons why a tooth feels sensitive.  One cause of tooth sensitivity may be due to vigorous tooth brushing.  Using a hard bristled brush or applying too much pressure when brushing may result in the gradual wearing down of tooth enamel.  Always use a soft bristled brush.  Save the hard bristled ones for scrubbing the sink.  Use gentle pressure and circular movements on your teeth.  Furthermore, although tartar control toothpaste may work well for some, it may be too abrasive for others.  Talk with your dentist or hygienist about your special needs.

Another cause of sensitivity could be a tooth fracture or crack, or even a fracture or crack in a restoration.  Sensitivity could also be a sign that a cavity has developed.  In addition, gum disease or bite-related problems may cause your gums to recede and expose the root surface.  In these situations, various dental procedures such as a restoration (filling or a crown), may be needed to correct the problem.

In addition, with an increase of stress in our daily lives, there has been an increase in “bruxism,” or the grinding of teeth.  Teeth grinding over a period of time can cause the wearing away of enamel on the biting surfaces of teeth.  When bruxism occurs during sleep, a person is unaware of the damage that is chronically occurring night after night.  After prolonged grinding, this may lead to severe pain in all affected teeth.  For these situations, your dentist may recommend a preventive approach to correcting these problems.


One solution may include the use of a “bite splint” or a “nightguard.”  This can be similar to the mouth guards that athletes wear when playing contact sports.  This custom-made acrylic resin guard is used as a shield between the upper and lower teeth.  Therefore, as you grind your teeth in your sleep, this bite splint will help protect your teeth.  This is especially important to wear when delicate restorations, such as veneers, are present.

Finally, toothpastes for sensitive teeth may help to relieve the pain, but are not the solution for everyone.  What toothpaste for sensitive teeth does is coat the exposed dentin tubules to minimize its nerve exposure.  Another solution your dentist may suggest is an in-office treatment, such as a desensitizing gel to apply to your teeth.


So the next time you’re drinking that Frappuccino and your teeth feel sensitive, don’t just turn the other cheek!  It’s wise to mention your sensitivity to your dental hygienist or dentist, so they can determine exactly what’s going on and discuss with you the different treatment options available.  Many people just want to ignore tooth sensitivity; however, it’s always better to be informed and be proactive about your dental health.