Ask the Dentistry Expert – Kayla Mastel

dentistry kayla

Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common problems that we hear about in a dental clinic.  Sensitivity can affect one specific tooth, an area of the mouth, or all of the teeth. Tooth sensitivity can also come and go over time.

What is sensitivity?

Sensitivity occurs when the underlying layer of tooth structure (dentin) becomes exposed and vulnerable to hot, cold, or sweet substances. Gum tissue or the hard outer enamel layer of the tooth usually covers dentin, but when dentin is exposed so are the tiny pores inside the dentin. These pores lead to the nerve of the tooth, which is why you feel sharp nerve pain when the tooth comes into contact with hot, cold, or sweet substances.

Sensitivity is not a disease, but rather a condition that develops over time and can be caused by several common factors. Brushing too aggressively or using a medium or hard toothbrush eventually wears down enamel and also leads to gums shrinking permanently (gum recession). It is better to use a soft or extra soft toothbrush along with a gentle brushing technique. An electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor is also an option for improving brushing technique and preventing aggressive brushing.

Tooth grinding is another common concern we often hear from patients and can be directly related to tooth sensitivity. You may be grinding your teeth during your sleep or clenching them throughout the day. This constant pressure on the teeth wears down the enamel layer and may eventually lead to exposed dentin and tooth sensitivity. The constant trauma of grinding can also make your teeth sensitive even if you don’t have exposed dentin.

Tooth whitening has become a very common practice and is known to cause varying levels of sensitivity. The most common whitening ingredients are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. These ingredients penetrate the tooth enamel and almost always cause sensitivity. This type of sensitivity is usually temporary and improves after the whitening process is complete. We recommend using sensitivity toothpaste after using any type of tooth whitening.

Gum disease (periodontal disease) can also greatly contribute to tooth sensitivity. Periodontal disease can range from simple gum inflammation (gingivitis) to serious inflammation of the tissues and bone that support the teeth. In cases where more moderate to severe disease is present, there is often a large amount of tartar on the teeth. Tartar presses the gum tissue and bone away from the teeth and requires removal by a dental hygienist. If tartar remains on the teeth, it continues to create a space for bacteria to travel below the gum line and begins to break down the bone and gums that support the teeth. If not treated, the teeth will eventually become loose and need to be removed.

After having a dental cleaning to remove the tartar, most people with periodontal disease will experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. Removing the tartar from the tooth and root surfaces leaves some of the dentin layer exposed, but needs to be done to maintain gum and bone health. This sensitivity can usually be managed by sensitivity toothpaste, placing a fluoride varnish on the teeth, or applying a desensitizing product in the office.

Always let your Medicine Hat dentist or hygienist know if you experience any type of tooth sensitivity, as there are usually a number of options they can offer you. Not all sensitivity products work the same way for everyone and your dentist or hygienist will be able to work with you to find what works best for you.

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