Tooth sensitivity, aka dentin hypersensitivity, is one of the most common complaints among dental patients, says the Academy of General Dentistry, and can range from a mild tingly sensation to a flash of intense pain. It can come and go depending on what you eat or drink, or it can be ever-present.
The outer surface of the tooth, the enamel, protects the inner tooth surface known as the dentin. The dentin houses pores (or tubes) which run directly to the sensitive tooth nerves. Individuals with sensitive teeth experience discomfort when a hot, cold, sour or sweet food or beverage, or even cold air, enters the exposed tubules and aggravates the nerves.
There are a number of possible causes for sensitive teeth:
Tooth sensitivity "is an under-appreciated problem that might have serious consequences depending on the cause," says Dr Michael Wald. "Interestingly, heart disease and gastrointestinal disease, hormonal imbalances, chronic inflammation and other 'hidden diseases' might manifest as tooth sensitivity.
Since there are so many causes of tooth sensitivity, it's best to see a dentist to determine the cause. The dentist will examine your teeth and test for sensitivity using an air spray gun to locate the source(s) of the sensitivity. Once it's established that your tooth sensitivity isn't indicative of a more serious problem, your dentist can help you manage the condition.
For low to moderate levels of sensitivity, over-the-counter products can make the root nerve less sensitive or build a protective coating to cover the sensitive tooth surface:
If the sensitivity continues in spite of your best efforts, or if you have a more intense level of overall sensitivity, your dentist may apply an in-office desensitizer which provides relief for months or years. The dentist can cover the exposed dentin and root surfaces with bonding (white fillings), a fluoride varnish or dental sealer.
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