Sensitive Teeth

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Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?

The most common complaint I get from patients is, “Why are my teeth sensitive?” While there are many reasons you may have sensitive teeth, I’ll be mentioning the major ones.

  1. Gum recession.

This is probably the reason you are experiencing tooth sensitivity. When the gum peels away from the tooth, it exposes the root of the tooth, which is very sensitive. Our body naturally protects our sensitive roots with gum tissue. Some of the reasons for gum recession are: brushing too hard, bone loss around teeth, and age.

2. Erosion.

Enamel is the hardest substance in our body, but its kryptonite (just went to go see Justice League) is acid. There are many reasons we shouldn’t consume acidic foods, but one of the major ones is that it eats away at our enamel. You’ve seen those videos of soda eating at concrete, it’s the same concept. The longer acid contacts our teeth, the more damage it does to the enamel.  Our enamel protects our inner sensitive portion of teeth called the dentin. Losing enamel can also affect your bite, which can cause TMJ issues.

3. Tooth decay.

Cavity-causing bacteria will eat away your tooth, and cause a direct exposure of the dentin. Cavities can also lead to very sharp pain when they reach the nerve. Once a cavity has reached the nerve, you will most likely need a root canal and crown.

4. Broken tooth.

If you’re lucky, the tooth fracture will be only in enamel. This won’t cause sensitivity and can be addressed by having your dentist smooth your tooth. Unfortunately, it is common for a broken tooth to expose the dentin. This will require a filling or crown, depending on the size of the fracture. A fracture can also expose the nerve, which will call for a root canal and crown. If the fracture is all the way down the tooth, then it will have to be removed and replaced by either a dental implant or bridge.

5. Defective fillings.

You know those fillings you got when you were 12? Well, they may not be working as well as they once did. When there is a gap between the filling and tooth, this will cause either sensitivity or decay.

6. Gum disease.

This is a big one! I truly feel that the most extreme cases of sensitivity I’ve seen come from gum disease. Please, please, please go to your dentist regularly for your cleanings! Don’t let the bone levels around your teeth suffer! If this isn’t controlled, you won’t be able to enjoy ice cream the same ever again!!

While there are other reasons for sensitivity, these are the most common I see at Tri-City Dental Care.

So how does tooth sensitivity work? If you look at dentin through a microscope you will see small wavy lines. Go ahead and Google “Dentin Histology”, and you will see pictures of what I’m talking about. These lines are actually thin tubes that lead directly to the nerve. In a live tooth, these tubes are filled with liquid. When something hits that liquid (air or anything cold) it pushes the liquid to the nerve and voila! Tooth sensitivity.

What Can Be Done?

So what can be done about sensitive teeth? Every case is different, but I usually start with putting fluoride varnish on teeth and having my patients use sensitive toothpaste for at least two weeks. If that doesn’t work, then I pinpoint the exact area of sensitivity and place a thin film on it to protect the dentin. That takes care of 90% of the sensitivity issues. If those don’t work, then we are looking into more invasive treatments, like fillings, crowns, etc.

I hope this blog has been insightful! If you have any questions about anything tooth-related, please don’t hesitate to call our Tri-City Dental Care office at (509) 579-0759!

-Antonio Lopez-Ibarra, DDS