Sensitive teeth? Here’s how to cope

Posted on 30 August 2017

Dr Charles Middleton, a dentist from Mediclinic Kimberley, gives advice on how to deal with the pain of sensitive teeth.

Does a sip of hot chocolate or a bite of ice cream sometimes trigger a bolt of pain right into the roots of your teeth? Or have you stopped flossing because your teeth feel too tender? These could be symptoms of the common ailment known as ‘sensitive teeth,’ says dentist Dr Charles Middleton from Mediclinic Kimberley. It’s fortunately easily remedied in many cases but it may also signal a serious dental problem.

According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), 1 in 8 adults may suffer from this condition, and it’s most prevalent in young adults, women, and people struggling with receding gums.

What causes sensitive teeth? 

Tooth sensitivity is medically known as dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity, which occurs when your dentin – the layer of tooth underneath the enamel, which contains tiny nerve endings, becomes exposed due to loss of tooth enamel or cementum (a protective layer protecting the root under the gum line).

When this vulnerable dentin is subjected to different temperatures, a change in pressure, or acidic foods and drinks, you may experience discomfort or pain.

‘A few of the chief causes of sensitivity include decay, a cracked tooth, worn enamel, worn fillings and roots that are exposed as a result of aggressive tooth brushing or brushing your teeth incorrectly, gum recession and periodontal (gum) disease,’ explains Dr Middleton.

Other causes include bruxism (teeth grinding) or post-dental treatment sensitivity following, for example, crowns or fillings.

Getting to the root of preventing sensitive teeth

‘Proper oral hygiene is your best defence against preventing tooth decay, periodontal disease and pain from sensitive teeth,’ says Dr Middleton.

You should be brushing your teeth for two minutes twice a day – and flossing twice a day. Ensure you’re using a soft- to medium-bristled toothbrush that reaches all areas of your mouth easily. Place your brush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and gently brush back and forth in short strokes – rather than horizontally and aggressively. Replace your toothbrush every three or four months and book an appointment to see your dentist twice a year.

If you grind your teeth, a mouth guard to wear at night might be an option.

Treatments your dentist may recommend

Depending on the cause, your dentist may suggest using desensitising toothpaste. ‘The two toothpastes I recommend are Sensodyne Rapid Relief and Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief,’ says Dr Middleton.

If that doesn’t work, your dentist may need to apply a fluoride gel or special desensitising agent to your teeth. Other treatments may include a filling, a crown, an inlay or bonding to correct a flaw or decay.

‘However, if gum tissue has been lost from the root due to gum recession (shrinking), you may need a surgical gum graft to cover the root, protect the tooth and reduce the sensitivity,’ says Dr Middleton. ‘Where hypersensitivity is severe and persistent and can’t be treated by other means, you may need root canal treatment.’

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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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