Tooth sensitivity describes a condition where either a tooth or a group of teeth become sensitive to temperature changes in the mouth. Typically, a person will note that when having either a cold or hot drink, a short sharp pain will be felt in the sensitive area and this may last for anything form a split second to a few minutes.
Sensitivity in a tooth or teeth is a sign that the protective barrier which shields the inner nerve of the tooth is lacking. The inner tooth tissue which forms the bulk and shape of the tooth is called dentine. This has a “honeycomb” like porous structure which allows for the transfer of air and fluids. Above the gum line, dentine is covered by non-porous enamel. Below the gum lie, the dentine is protected by cementum and the gum tissue.
When either the enamel or gum tissue fails to provide adequate protection of the dentine, the nerve becomes exposed to changes in air and fluid pressure in the porous dentine. Lack of enamel may be caused by acid erosion; lack of gum coverage may be caused by recession. In either case, tooth sensitivity is the likely outcome.
When tooth sensitivity occurs, it is important to see your dentist in order to diagnose why the sensitivity is happening. It is especially important to exclude the possibility that the sensitivity is being caused by dental decay, in which case a filling may be indicated. Where recession or thin enamel has been identified as the cause, your dentist may elect to apply a fluoride varnish which can help to reduce the sensitivity. Alternatively, commercially available products can help when used in a particular way and your dentist can show you the correct technique.
Once the short term sensitivity has been treated, it is sensible to then try and treat the condition that has lead to the sensitivity. This may involve using a fluoride mouthwash to help stop further enamel thinning or placing a small protective filling over exposed roots surfaces where the gum has receded.
If you are worried about tooth sensitivity, make an appointment to see our dental hygienist.