Sensitive teeth (dentinal hypersensitivity) can occur when gums pull away from your teeth at the gumline, exposing the dentin layer of your tooth. Dentin is the softer tooth layer that lies beneath the hard enamel surface. Below the gumline, dentin is not protected by the outer layer that is enamel. Once dentin is exposed, the microscopic pores called tubules that lead to the tooth nerve are left unprotected. Hot, cold and sometimes sweet or acidic foods can trigger sensitivity pain.
Why are my teeth sensitive?
There are several ways that dentin can become exposed leading to tooth sensitivity.
Common causes of sensitive teeth resulting from dentin exposure are:
- Gum recession due to gum disease
- Overaggressive brushing or brushing with a hard bristled toothbrush
- Too many acidic foods and beverages
- Teeth grinding
- Tooth decay or physical injury to the tooth
- Recent dental procedure
If you’re bothered by sensitive teeth, visit your dentist. He or she can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain. Depending on the circumstances, your dentist might recommend:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. After several applications, desensitizing toothpaste can sometimes help block pain associated with sensitive teeth. There are a variety of products available over-the-counter. Ask your dentist which product might work best for you.
- Fluoride. Your dentist might apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain. He or she might also suggest the use of prescription fluoride at home, applied via a custom tray.
- Desensitizing or bonding. Occasionally, exposed root surfaces can be treated by applying bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces. A local anesthetic might be needed.
- Root canal. If your sensitive teeth cause severe pain and other treatments aren’t effective, your dentist might recommend a root canal — a procedure used to treat problems in the tooth’s soft core (dental pulp). While this might seem like a significant treatment, it’s considered the most successful technique for eliminating tooth sensitivity.
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