Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tooth Sensitivity 101

One concern I hear from patients on a daily basis is about tooth sensitivity. There are several reasons a tooth can be sensitive and my objective is to help detect the cause.

Teeth are a lot like muscles. When we overwork them or do something out of the ordinary we may notice soreness or sensitivity. One general reason for sensitivity is due to gum recession. If the gums are receded it means they have pulled down. This exposes the root structure of the tooth called the dentin. Exposed dentin can make teeth sensitive to hot or cold thermal changes.  Recession is typically caused by extreme clenching or grinding of your teeth. We are able to clench our teeth together about 1000X harder at night than we can during the day. This can actually bend the tooth at the gum line causing the gums to pull down or recede.  One way to alleviate this stress factor is to wear a night guard or bite splint. Clenching and grinding your teeth can cause all of the teeth in your mouth to be hypersensitive or make you feel like you may have cavities when you really don’t. If this sounds like something that is familiar, I suggest you bring it up to your hygienist and they can suggest the best option for your individual needs.

Another common reason for tooth sensitivity can be tenderness of the gums. If the gums are not completely healthy you can mistake tooth sensitivity for gum tenderness or even gingivitis. If your gums regularly bleed when you brush or floss, this might mean your gums are inflamed or need a deeper cleaning. Try to determine if the sensitivity you feel is associated with your gums or the tooth itself and definitely mention it when you come in for your appointment.
If there is something deeper going on with the tooth you may feel a pain or sensitivity that feels like the nerve of the tooth is involved. An untreated cavity or unfinished dental work in the past can lead to infections of the root of the tooth. An x-ray will help a dental professional determine if the root of the tooth is sick. Nerve sensitivity can be a very sharp pain or it can be a dull/nagging pain. This depends upon the individual situation. Being regular with hygiene visits can ensure a tooth never gets to this level. If the nerve of a tooth is infected, typically we do a root canal which would end the pain. Once infection is drained from a tooth, the pain subsides.

Any reason for sensitivity can be temporarily solved by over-the- counter numbing agents or sensitive toothpaste. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the dental field, covering up pain temporarily will not make it disappear. Putting off a trip to the dentist can actually cause more pain in the future. Catching things early and having a preventative approach to your oral health can save you time and money in the long run. Visit your dentist or hygienist today to have a pain-free tomorrow!!

Annie Lutterman R.D.H.


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