What are the causes of tooth sensitivity?

What are the causes of tooth sensitivity?

Sensitive teeth usually occur because of receding gum tissue, which exposes the root of a tooth.

Q. Every time I drink cold water, I experience a severe ache in my gums. At first, I thought I had a cavity. But when I went to the dentist, he told me that I have sensitive teeth. What is this? I didn't know teeth could 'feel' anything.

Yourtooth is actually divided into two parts - the crown and the root. The crown and the root meet at the neck of your tooth, which is just below your gum margin.

The crown is the part of the tooth that you can see in your mouth. It has three segments: The enamel (outer hard layer), dentine and pulp. The enamel is the hard part and does not possess a nerve supply.

If you bite down on it, or if there is a chip or any sort of damage to it, you will not feel pain. Unfortunately, your enamel cannot repair or heal itself.

The dentine is the layer below your enamel. On the crown, it is covered by the enamel, but in the root, it is protected by a covering called cementum.

Your dentine surrounds and protects your nerves and blood vessels in your pulp.

Your dentine can register pain because it is alive. It can also repair itself.

If your dentine is exposed, you can feel pain. The pulp consists of nerves and blood vessels. It occupies the root canal and the pulp chamber.

If in any way it is exposed to decay or injury, it will die and cause severe pain.

So my teeth can become sensitive in the dentine and pulp area?

Yes. Tooth sensitivity is defined as tooth discomfort or pain in one or more teeth. It is triggered by heat, cold, sweetness or sourness. It may be from food or drink, or even breathing in cold air.

The pain can be sharp or a dull ache. It can be sudden or come on insidiously. It can also last for a little while, or a long time, especially when it shoots deep into the nerve endings of your teeth. Your entire jaw and even side of the neck can ache.

Sensitive teeth occurs when your dentine is exposed.

How does my dentine get exposed? You mean it's like having a tooth cavity?

Brushing your teeth too hard, or constantly using hard-bristled toothbrushes can wear down your enamel and lead to receding gums.

It's not a tooth cavity, though the pain is elicited in the same manner.

Sensitive teeth occur usually because of receding gum tissue. So your roots, which are not covered by your enamel, are also exposed.

The root contains many tubules that lead to your tooth's pulp, and allows the stimulus - be it from drinking cold water or chewing on that side of the mouth - to reach your tooth's nerves.

What are the causes of tooth sensitivity?

There are several factors involved:

>> If you brush your teeth too hard, or if you constantly use a hard-bristled toothbrush, this can wear down your enamel and recede your gums.

Yes, your mother probably taught you to brush this way, and you think you are doing your teeth a service by brushing hard. But this is one of the things you have to unlearn, because it's not good for your teeth in the end. l If you want to make sure your teeth is really clean, it's better to floss after each meal to pick out the food particles that may be stuck between your teeth.

>> If your tooth decays near the gum line, then, yes, you have a cavity right there that exposes your dentine.

>> If your gum moves away from your tooth as a result of disease, such as gingivitis (inflammation of your gums).

There may be loss of the supporting ligaments of the gum, which may result in the root of your tooth being exposed.

>> If you have cracked, broken or chipped teeth which may be filled with plaque.

The bacteria will then enter the pulp to cause inflammation.

>> If you grind your teeth, or if you like to clench your jaw very often, which can wear down the enamel.

>> If you use too many tooth-whitening products or mouthwash that contains acids.

>> If you like eating a lot of acid-containing foods like oranges, lemons, tomatoes, pickles, or if you like drinking a lot of tea.

>> If you recently had a dental procedure. But sensitivity caused by this usually disappears within six weeks.

What can I do to make my tooth sensitivity go away?

>> Brush your teeth with a soft bristled toothbrush.

>> Floss thoroughly. Be careful when you brush around the gum area so that you don't remove more gum tissue.

>> Use desensitising toothpaste. They may not work as well as "regular" toothpaste, but when you swipe them on the sensitive area and leave it there (preferably without rinsing your mouth), they work very well to reduce your pain.

>> If you must rinse your mouth, then do so only after 20 minutes of leaving the toothpaste there.

>> Don't eat acidic foods or drink ice water.

>> Don't grind your teeth, or use a mouth guard at night if you do it during your sleep.

If all else fails, there are some dental procedures such as white fillings (bonding), fluoride varnishes or dental sealers which can be applied to your exposed roots. Check with your dentist.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my.

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