Sensitive teeth are a common issue that can be an indication of more serious problems such as gum disease, decay, cracks, excessive tooth wear, and nerve infections. What causes sensitive teeth is important to understand so that it can be treated and further damage can be prevented.
In a perfectly happy and healthy mouth, your teeth should react mildly to hot and hot foods and drinks. Inside each tooth is the pulp – a network of nerves and blood vessels that is responsible for the formation of the tooth and to provide ongoing feedback of any issues.
When a tooth becomes sensitive, it means that something is stimulating the nerve beyond what it should normally feel. A sharp twinge of pain that only lasts 1-2 seconds is the most common indicator of tooth sensitivity. It is possible to get similar symptoms from tooth decay, or an infected nerve, both of which require more significant dental work to resolve.
In this article we talk about what causes sensitive teeth in relation to gum disease. The gums and the jaw bone form a critical support structure for our teeth. Damage to the gums can expose more of the root of the tooth to the oral cavity. If the root surface is no longer insulated or covered, cold, hot and sometimes sweet sensations can be transmitted to the nerve which is just below the surface.
The root of the tooth is also softer than the protective enamel coating, meaning it is more easily worn away tooth brushing. It is also more susceptible to tooth decay which is a more serious issue that can lead to infection of the nerve requiring root canal treatment or removing the tooth if not addressed in the appropriate time frame.
In addition to heavy brushing, gum disease is the major cause of recession leading to exposed roots and sensitive teeth. It is mainly caused by bacteria building up at, or below the gumline. If not cleaned away regularly, the disease advances, causing damage to the gum and bone. Gum disease treatment with a dental professional typically involves more thorough cleaning, and occasionally the use of specialised gels or mouth rinses.
Gum disease is also known as periodontal disease. Periodontal translates to “around the tooth” as it refers to the tissue (bone and gum) that provide this support.
Periodontal therapy is a more rigorous treatment for the disease, and it is aimed at removing plaque and the hard scale that builds up. If the bacterial build up can be reduced, the gum may be able to reattach to some of the root of the tooth.
Unfortunately, this does not always occur, and the gum and bone level may not regrow, leaving the exposed root as a long-term problem. Some periodontal therapy can involve the use of surgery to cover the roots, but as is typically the case, prevention is better than cure.
It all comes back to the basics of brushing twice daily with a SOFT toothbrush, and flossing regularly to remove plaque build-up from in between teeth. Regular removal prevents the disease from becoming established and will reduce the need for periodontal therapy later in life.
Gum disease is rarely a problem that pops up overnight. Instead, it is often a slow process and for many people it can be painless. Smoking and uncontrolled diabetes will also increase the risk and severity of the problem.
Sensitive teeth is a symptom that only some experience, with other signs being bleeding gums particularly during cleaning. A dentist or oral health professional is the best person to assess and treat your mouth for any issues.
Using a specialised toothpaste can reduce sensitivity. Desensitising toothpastes help to form a thin protective barrier over the exposed root, and also help to plug up microscopic pores in the root surface known as dentine tubules. With regular use they can be highly effective, but only in situations of mild recession. In some scenarios, small fillings or use of professional desensitising products in the dental clinic may be required.
If you don’t have a specific desensitising toothpaste, then regular toothpaste containing fluoride can be beneficial. The best way is to rub a small amount into the sensitive area after your regular brushing, and leave in place overnight. The direct and prolonged application can help reduce the issue in time.
It is important to remember that having your teeth examined by a dentist to properly identify the cause of your sensitivity is critical to getting appropriate advice. As mentioned above, sensitive teeth can be caused by more serious issues such as cracks, excessive tooth wear, decay and nerve infections.