A Guide to Managing Sensitive Teeth

Do you have sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth are one of the most common dental problems that we see. It’s especially common for in people between the ages of twenty through to forty.

Sensitivity is usually felt when drinking or eating something cold: such as cold drinks; but in more extreme cases even moderately cold tap water can set it off; or even cold air on a chilly winter morning.

It can also occur when eating something sweet: chocolate is one of the most common culprits, or maybe drinking acidic beverages such as fruit juices.

For the most part the discomfort is a short sharp pain lasting just a few seconds, or sometimes as long as the ‘cold or sweet’ is present on the teeth.

If it lasts longer, then it can be indicate something more serious is going. Either way you need to get it checked out by a dentist: Dr Jamie can identify the cause and treat or advise you appropriately.

If you are getting sensitivity to sweet things this suggests a very early issue – sensitivity to heat is a completely different story and suggests the nerve inside the tooth may have a problem.

If you are experiencing symptoms and would like to read more… check out my pages on jamiethedentist.com concerning reversible pulpitis and irreversible pulpitis.

This is the series of questions that Dr Jamie will go through during a consultation with a patient in pain:

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Not only is Dr Workman a very good dentist, he has genuine caring nature and always makes sure you feel truly looked after. This is why he has such a loyal following of, families, young professionals right through to our older generation. With over 12 years experience, he is young, passionate, great at what he does and has an excellent aesthetic eye. If you would like a dental professional you can really trust,  who places your health, happiness and comfort as an absolute priority, then you would be hard pushed to look any further. If you have typed ‘dentist near me’ then our state of the art Maroubra dental practice won’t be far away.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

General sensitivity is known as ‘dentine hypersensitivity’ in the dental world and it comes from (as the name suggests) having some of the dentine layer under the enamel exposed.

There are different ways in which this can occur and each can result in varying degrees of sensitivity:

1.  Wear of the enamel –when the enamel thins or is worn away by:
Acid erosion (from acidic food and drink)
Teeth grinding or clenching
Ageing (over time from natural wear, diet etc. this occurs)

2. Exposure of the root surface from:
Receding gums
Toothbrush abrasion

3. Gum disease

4. A break in the integrity of the enamel caused by:
A leaking filling
Cracked teeth
A broken or chipped tooth
Cavities (dental decay)

5. Dental treatment- some dental treatment can cause temporary sensitivity
Tooth whitening
White fillings
Veneers
Dental cleaning
Periodontal treatment

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How do you treat tooth sensitivity?

You need to establish a diagnosis before the sensitivity can be treated: Dr Jamie will take a full history and ask questions regarding your level of sensitivity he will determine your diet, your oral hygiene habits and perform an examination, together with x-rays if needed, to rule out tooth decay and gum disease.

Luckily, most of the time, the sensitivity can be relieved with a bit of air from the 3 in 1 syringe.

However, a filling is likely to be necessary, if the sensitivity is caused by a broken filling or a cavity.

It’s the same with a cracked tooth – though the size, extent and position of the crack may mean a crown is needed instead.

A gum graft can be used if one or two teeth have lost the overlying gum thus exposing the root (this condition will only get worse unless action is taken).

Most sensitivity is caused by the exposed root surface, although just because you have some root exposure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the tooth will be sensitive (there is considerable variation between individuals). One person may have a mouth full of exposed roots with no problem issues whereas another person may experience extreme sensitivity from the smallest recession on a single tooth.

Your first line of defence tends to be sensitive toothpaste and this may need to be a permanent extension to your oral hygiene.

Brush a bit of fresh toothpaste onto your teeth just before you sleep, and don’t rinse it out: this can boost the effect of a ‘sensitive’ toothpaste.

Dr Jamie has a range of treatments to help reduce sensitivity from fluoride varnishes and gels, protective seals for the dentine, through to protective white fillings.

If in the rare circumstance a tooth will not settle and the pain is getting worse, a last resort would be either a root canal to save the tooth, or an extraction (if the root canal is not feasible).

Sensitivity is common during a scaling, particularly on the front lower teeth, although it tends to be mild and manageable for most people.

If your teeth are too sensitive for the cleaning, Dr. Jamie will find a way through: using a reduced ultrasonic frequency, pre- desensitising treatments, sedation, local anaesthetic, or reverting back to using hand scalers if need be. A fluoride gel will then be applied to the teeth after cleaning.

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How can you prevent sensitive teeth?

Here we are talking about general sensitivity, which means you have seen a dentist to rule out that there are any specific causes that need to be fixed.

Prevention techniques include:

1. Using a sensitive toothpaste- Dr. Jamie’s favourites are Colgate Pro-Relief and Sensodyne Rapid
2. Making sure your toothpaste contains Fluoride
3. Brushing and flossing correctly each day for 2 minutes – not more or less – you don’t want to wear away your gums!
4. Getting a professionally made dental splint for grinding – this will help to protect enamel from wear, and teeth and fillings from chipping and cracking. You may not always know you are grinding, but if you are, there will be clear signs in your mouth.
5. Have regular professional cleanings and a check up twice a year so things can be caught early and irreversible damage prevented.
6. Inform Dr Jamie of your tooth sensitivity: there are a few things such as tooth mousse that you can only get from a dentist.
7. If you want your teeth whitened- do this with professional supervision, or you could risk worsening the sensitivity. You can still whiten your teeth, but the process is likely to differ due to your sensitivity.
8. Drink water after every meal to neutralise the acidity in your mouth and wash down excess food debris.
9. Watch the amount of acidic food and drinks you consume and drink with a straw so that the liquid by-passes your teeth and goes straight to the back of your mouth.
10. Avoid setting off the sensitivity, and try and get it to settle: this means avoiding the temperature that set it off… be that cold, hot, sweet or acid. You are trying to calm the nerve: you can then begin to re-introduce a range of temperatures back to your diet.

Summary Box:

TreatmentsOral hygiene instruction | Fluoride treatments | White Fillings | Crowns | Root canal treatment | Bruxism prevention
CostSee treatment page for details

Have a Question?

You can ask Dr Jamie directly:

Alternatively if you would prefer to speak with someone directly or book an appointment, please call our lovely staff at the Maroubra Dental Centre on 02 9133 4005.

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  2. These other excellent resources:

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