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Sensitive Teeth – Types, Prevention and Treatment

Sensitive Teeth – Types, Prevention and Treatment

What are Sensitive Teeth?

Do you experience twinges of pain when enjoying hot or cold beverages, sweets, or even a cool breeze? You might be dealing with teeth sensitivity, a common dental concern affecting many people.

Sensitive teeth refer to a common dental condition where individuals experience discomfort or pain when their teeth are exposed to certain stimuli. This discomfort typically occurs in response to:

  • Cold food or drinks
  • Occasionally, hot food or drinks
  • Sweet or sugary foods
  • Touch or pressure

Sensitive teeth can range from mild twinges to severe pain, and in some cases, it can even constitute a dental emergency. It’s a condition that can affect anyone, and understanding its causes, symptoms, and treatment options is crucial for maintaining good oral health and overall well-being.

Types of Teeth Sensitivity

There are two main types of teeth sensitivity:

  • Dentinal Sensitivity  
  • Pulpal Sensitivity

Dentinal Sensitivity

Dental sensitivity occurs when the dentin (middle layer) of a tooth is exposed. Normally, the dentin is protected. The part of the tooth above the gumline is covered with enamel and the tooth’s roots are covered with cementum.

The dentinal layer is made of tiny openings called tubules. Inside each tubule lies a tiny nerve branch that comes from the tooth’s pulp chamber in the center of the tooth. When the dentin is exposed and a stimulus, such as those listed above, can reach these nerve branches, sensitivity can occur.

Dentinal sensitivity can affect one or more teeth, depending on the cause. Causes include:

  • Too-vigorous brushing that wears away the tooth surface (enamel and/or cementum)
  • Poor oral hygiene that allows tartar to build up at the gum line, leaching
    minerals from the tooth
  • Long-term tooth wear
  • Decay
  • An old filling with a crack or leak
  • Gum recession, which exposes the tooth’s roots. The recession is often
    caused by periodontal disease
  • Gum surgery that exposes the tooth’s roots
  • Excessive tooth whitening in people with root surfaces already exposed

Pulpal Sensitivity

Pulpal sensitivity is a reaction of the tooth’s pulp, a mass of blood vessels and nerves that sit in the center of each tooth. Pulpal sensitivity tend to affect only a single tooth. Causes include:

  • Decay or infection
  • A recent filling
  • Excessive pressure from clenching or grinding

If you experience a sharp pain upon biting, you may have a cracked tooth or a broken or cracked filling.

Symptoms of Teeth Sensitivity

Both dentinal and pulpal sensitivity usually involve reactions to temperature or pressure. 

  • Sensitivity to cold or hot foods and beverages
  • Discomfort while chewing or biting
  • Lingering pain after stimuli are removed
  • Sharp pain indicating potential dental issues like cracked teeth or infections

Sensitivity to cold drinks or foods is the most common symptom. Less often, the teeth are sensitive to hot temperatures. If a single tooth progresses from cold sensitivity to hot sensitivity, it may indicate that the tooth’s nerve is dying, and root canal treatment (endodontic therapy) is necessary. If single-tooth sensitivity continues for some time after the stimulus is gone, the tooth is more likely to require root-canal treatment than if the sensitivity lasts only seconds.

Diagnosis of Teeth Sensitivity

Upon examination, Sunnyvale dentist dr. Bhawna Gupta DDS evaluates dental history and conducts tests to determine the cause of sensitivity. Treatment options may include:

  • Dental cleaning to remove plaque and tartar
  • Application of fluoride varnish to strengthen enamel and reduce sensitivity
  • In-office treatments to block tubules and alleviate discomfort
  • Root canal therapy for cases of severe pulp sensitivity or decay

Sensitivity Prevention Tips

Dentinal Sensitivity Prevention

You might be able to reduce your chances of dentinal sensitivity by:

  • Practicing good oral hygiene, which can minimize the buildup of tartar and
    prevent periodontal (gum) disease, which can lead to sensitivity
  • Using a soft brush and brushing gently up and down, rather than side to side,
    to prevent abrasion of the enamel
  • Using a fluoride toothpaste and mouth rinse
  • Using a desensitizing toothpaste that has the American Dental Association
    (ADA) Seal of Approval and provides protection against sensitivity
  • Getting treatment for bruxism
Pulpal Sensitivity Prevention

There isn’t a good way to prevent pulpal sensitivity because at this point, the tooth needs root canal treatment. If you grind or clench your teeth (bruxism), being treated for this condition may help prevent the pulp from being overly sensitive.

How Sensitivity is Treated

Dentinal Sensitivity Treatment

Dentinal sensitivity is quite treatable, whatever the cause. Your dentist or dental hygienist will clean your teeth. If your teeth are too sensitive to be cleaned, your dentist may use a local anesthetic or nitrous oxide before the cleaning.

After a cleaning, Sunnyvale dentist Dr. Bhawna Gupta DDS may apply a fluoride varnish-based treatment to protect your teeth. This reduces the sensitivity and strengthens your teeth. This treatment reduces sensitivity temporarily. Your dentist also may apply an in-office treatment for sensitivity. These products contain substances that block the openings (tubules) in your teeth and reduce sensitivity.

At home, the use of fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses also will help to reduce sensitivity. Toothpastes are also available specifically for sensitive teeth.

Talk to your dentist about which fluoride rinses you should use. Some over-the-counter rinses are acidic. Others are not. You should choose a fluoride mouth rinse that uses neutral sodium fluoride.

Pulpal Sensitivity Treatment

Pulpal sensitivity can be treated with a root canal in cases where the sensitivity indicates that the tooth’s nerve is damaged or dying. If the sensitivity results from a new amalgam filling, it should subside without treatment in several weeks. Sensitivity caused by bruxism should diminish as the bruxism is treated.

When To Call A Sunnyvale Dental Care Emergency Dental Office

If you have sensitivity that lasts for longer than a few weeks, contact your dentist. Or if you have a scheduled cleaning coming up soon, talk to your dentist then about your sensitivity and possible causes. Most cases of tooth sensitivity are treated easily.

Schedule your appointment with Dr. Bhawna Gupta DDS and Sunnyvale Dental Care or call us at 408-720-0900
Some Dental Emergencies

First, try to stick the tooth back in place and hold it there while you rush to see the dentist. If that’s impossible, put the tooth in a container of milk (or water if milk is not available) and take it and the patient to the dentist immediately. Read more about Knocked out teeth.

To avoid further aggravating the damaged tooth, place a piece of soft wax into the area of the tooth that was chipped. You should eat only soft foods and try to avoid food and drink that are hot and cold to the touch.

If you find that your jaw hurts when it is moved or if you cannot close your mouth in a normal fashion, it is likely that you have fractured your jaw. Seek professional medical help at a hospital emergency room. The hospital will be able to treat your injury as well as advise you whether you need to make an appointment to see your dentist.

Biting or lacerating your tongue may cause inflammation and possible bleeding. Use ice or pressure to control the swelling or bleeding. Any swelling should subside within twenty-four hours. Contact your Dentist if the pain persists or the laceration is deep. Read more about bitten tongue or lip.

Slight bleeding after an extraction is normal. A clot will usually form within one hour. If bleeding continues, place a thick gauze pad over the extraction site. Apply pressure to the area to control the flow of blood. If bleeding still persists, you may try soaking a tea bag in water, placing it inside a thin gauze pad, and apply pressure for one hour. The tea leaves contain minerals which may aid in the clotting procedure.

Canker sores are those very small and painful sores which occur inside the mouth. They can be caused by stress, biting the inside of the mouth or by a reaction to certain foods. If you find that you have developed a canker sore on the inside of the mouth, apply an over-the-counter medicine like Orajel or Campho-Phenique. This will produce a bandage-like film over the sore. Read more about Dental Abscesses

An aching tooth is a very common dental emergency. A toothache is often a sign of infection in or around a tooth. Tylenol or aspirin can sometimes be effective in comforting pain. If there is a hole in the tooth, you may place Oil of Cloves on a small cotton pellet and place it in the site to relieve pain.

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