Sensitivity No More: Your Guide to Treating Dentin Hypersensitivity and Enjoying a Pain-Free Smile

The woman experiences dentin hypersensitivity when eating ice cream

Have you ever winced in pain after biting into an ice cream cone or sipping a hot cup of coffee? If yes, you’ve likely experienced dentin hypersensitivity, a common dental issue affecting many adults worldwide. Dentin hypersensitivity, often referred to as sensitive teeth, occurs when the tooth’s enamel wears down, exposing the soft, inner part of the tooth called dentin.

In this post, we’ll explore dentin hypersensitivity and how to treat it effectively.

What Is Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Dentin hypersensitivity, also known as sensitive teeth, is a condition characterized by a painful response when the teeth come in contact with stimuli such as hot or cold temperatures, acidic foods, or even the act of tooth brushing. This discomfort arises from the exposure of dentin, the inner part of the tooth, generally safeguarded by enamel on the crown and cementum on the root.

On the other hand, the dentin houses minute channels known as dentinal tubules, which are direct pathways leading to the tooth’s nerve center or the tooth pulp. The hypersensitivity experienced stems from the perturbation in the fluid movement within these dentinal tubules, a situation extensively explained by the hydrodynamic theory.

This theory identifies pain in sensitive teeth as a direct response to the fluid shifts within these tubules caused by changes in temperature, pressure, or osmotic stimuli.

What Causes Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Loss of Enamel

A firm layer of enamel protects our teeth. The erosion of this protective layer can expose the dentin underneath, resulting in hypersensitive teeth. Severe pain can be experienced from this exposure due to stimuli reaching the nerves through the open dentin tubules.

Exposure of Root Surfaces

The loss of tooth structure, particularly around the gum line, can expose the root surfaces, leading to dentin sensitivity. This exposure can be due to poor oral hygiene, aggressive brushing, gum disease, or aging.

Dietary and Gastric Acids

The consumption of acidic foods or drinks and conditions such as acid reflux can erode the tooth’s enamel, leading to dentin hypersensitivity. Acidic elements cause a reaction with the minerals in our teeth, damaging the protective layer and unshielding the dentin.

Bulimia or Acid Reflux Disease (GERD)

Both conditions can lead to extensive enamel erosion due to stomach acids reaching the mouth, causing tooth sensitivity.

Recent Dental Procedures

Some dental procedures like fillings, crowns, root canals, or teeth bleaching can cause temporary tooth sensitivity. This sensitivity usually resolves on its own in a few days to a week. If it continues, you should consult your dental professional.

Gum recession

Gum disease, improper brushing technique, or aging can cause your gums to recede and expose the tooth’s roots. These roots contain tubules that lead to the tooth’s nerve center, causing sensitivity when they come into contact with hot or cold substances.

Cracked Teeth or Tooth Decay

Cracks in your teeth or decay can expose the dentin, leading to sensitivity. Regular visits to your dental professional can help identify and treat such issues before they become severe.

Teeth Grinding or Clenching

Also known as bruxism, this habit can wear down tooth enamel and expose dentin, resulting in sensitivity. Your dental professional may recommend a mouthguard to protect your teeth during sleep.

Aggressive Toothbrushing

Aggressive toothbrushing can lead to hypersensitivity. When you brush your teeth too hard, it can cause both enamel wear and gum recession. Enamel, the hard outer layer of your teeth, protects the inner layers of your teeth from heat, cold, and other stimuli. As this layer wears down, it can lead to increased tooth sensitivity.

Similarly, gum recession exposes the roots of your teeth that are not protected by enamel, making them more vulnerable to temperature changes and sweet or acidic foods, resulting in tooth sensitivity. Aggressive brushing can also cause damage to the gums themselves, leading to inflammation and sensitivity.

What Are the Symptoms Of Dentin Hypersensitivity?

  • Sharp, Sudden Pain. The pain from dentin hypersensitivity can be likened to a sudden sharp pain. It is thought to be caused by the stimulation of dentinal tubules, tiny passageways in the tooth’s dentin layer, that leads to this sharp and abrupt sensation of discomfort.
  • Sensitivity to Cold or Hot Temperatures. Human teeth have a protective layer of enamel that, when worn down, exposes the dentin, leading to sensitivity. The dentinal tubules react strongly to the external stimuli of cold or hot temperatures, causing a particularly intense reaction.
  • Sensitivity to Acidic or Sweet Foods. Acidic or sweet foods often cause pain in teeth with dentin hypersensitivity. Dietary and gastric acids can dissolve the calcium carbonate, which protects the tooth, leading to an increased sensitivity.
  • Pain When Brushing or Flossing. Oral hygiene practices like brushing and flossing can become painful. The external stimuli from the action of the toothbrush or floss can stimulate the exposed dentinal tubules, causing a sharp sensation of pain.
  • Reactive to Air. The exposure of dentinal tubules can make the teeth reactive even to the cool air. This occurs when the dentinal tubules, now unprotected by worn enamel, are exposed to sudden changes in temperature.
  • Pain When Chewing. Pressure from chewing can also reach the dentinal tubules, causing pain. This is due to the direct external stimuli applied during the chewing process, leading to the fluid flow in the dentinal tubules, causing discomfort.
  • Worn Tooth Enamel. When enamel, the protective outer layer of a tooth, wears away, it can expose the tooth’s sensitive inner dentin. This makes dentin hypersensitivity a common predisposing factor in individuals with worn tooth enamel.
  • Bleeding Gums. While dentin hypersensitivity can cause bleeding gums, it could also suggest gum disease. Both these issues need to be treated promptly, either independently or as part of the treatment for tooth hypersensitivity.
  • Chronic Toothache. Persistent toothache can be a sign of dentin hypersensitivity. Especially if the pain increases with the consumption of hot, cold, or acidic foods and drinks; this is due to the mechanism of action that dentin hypersensitivity prompts.

How Long Does Dentin Hypersensitivity Last?

Dentin hypersensitivity can vary in duration depending on the person and the cause. Some individuals may only experience temporary sensitivity that lasts for a few hours or days. This can often be a result of teeth whitening or dental work. Others may deal with chronic sensitivity that persists for an extended period, lasting weeks or even months.

In severe cases where the sensitivity is due to gum disease or tooth decay, the discomfort may persist until the condition is treated. It’s crucial to seek dental attention if the discomfort lasts longer than a week to determine the root cause and appropriate treatment.

How to Treat Dentin Hypersensitivity?

The following are some in-office treatment options your dentist may recommend:

1. Desensitizing Toothpaste

These oral hygiene products often contain potassium salts like potassium nitrate, potassium citrate, or potassium chloride. They block the tiny dentin tubules, leading to the tooth’s nerve, thereby reducing its sensitivity to stimuli.

2. Dental Sealants

This dentin bonding agent acts as a protective layer that dental professionals apply to expose dentin surfaces. It can help prevent fluid movement within the dentin in response to stimuli, which often causes the sharp pain associated with dentin hypersensitivity.

3. Fluoride Treatments

Your dental practitioner might suggest applying fluorides, calcium carbonate, or calcium sodium phosphosilicate directly on the sensitive dentin. These substances harden the tooth surface to protect the dentin and reduce sensitivity. Fluoride treatments can vastly improve the quality of life for patients suffering from this common complaint.

4. Restoration Procedures

Restoration procedures involve applying sealants or fillings to protect the exposed dentin and reduce sensitivity. These procedures help create a barrier between the sensitive dentin and external stimuli such as cold or hot drinks, helping minimize discomfort.

5. Root Canal Treatment

A root canal treatment is an effective treatment for sensitivity wherein the infected nerve and pulp inside a tooth are removed. It’s a more invasive procedure typically used for severely infected or damaged teeth where the sensitivity and dental pain are constant and severe, thus eliminating the pain entirely.

6. Lifestyle Changes

In many cases, dentin hypersensitivity can be managed through lifestyle modifications. Brushing gently using a toothbrush with soft bristles can reduce enamel wear and prevent dentin exposure. Additionally, reducing the consumption of acidic food and drink can help protect your teeth against further damage and sensitivity.

7. Oral Care Products

Multiple oral care products are available in the market designed for individuals with sensitive teeth. Toothpaste, mouthwashes, and even chewing gums enriched with potassium nitrate can help strengthen tooth enamel and relieve sensitivity and pain by blocking nerve transmission. These products can be used daily as part of a routine oral care regimen.

8. Prescription Medications

Dental professionals may also prescribe special high-fluoride home treatments (gels or rinses) or anti-sensitivity toothpaste with more concentrated levels of key ingredients compared to those available over the counter.

How Can You Prevent Dentin Hypersensitivity?

  • Practice Good Oral Health. The most important step to preventing dentin hypersensitivity is maintaining good oral health. This includes brushing your teeth twice daily, flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for cleanings and check-ups. High-profile dental hygiene can help control plaque and tooth decay and prevent periodontal disease, a known risk factor for this condition.
  • Use Fluoride Toothpaste. Fluoride toothpaste can help strengthen the dentin surface and reduce the pain of dentin hypersensitivity. Choose a toothpaste that contains fluoride, preferably one that also contains stannous fluoride, which has been found to decrease dental hypersensitivity by blocking the dental tubules.
  • Avoid Abrasive Toothpaste. Some toothpaste with excessively abrasive properties can wear off the enamel surface and expose the delicate dentin layer underneath, leading to dentinal sensitivity. Hence, avoiding these types of toothpaste is best for better oral health.
  • Eat Sensibly. Avoid sugary foods and cold foods as much as possible. Sugary foods encourage tooth decay, which could expose more of the dentin surface, causing hypersensitivity. Meanwhile, cold foods could trigger pain in sensitive teeth.
  • Use Desensitizing Toothpaste. Potassium nitrate toothpastes are specially designed to help alleviate the symptoms of dentinal sensitivity. The potassium salts can effectively numb the nerves in your dental tissues and reduce pain sensations.
  • Care for Soft Tissues. Don’t forget about the soft tissues in your mouth. Keeping your gums healthy is another vital part of preventing dentin hypersensitivity. This is because gum recession is a potential risk factor for exposing more of the dentin surface.
  • Limit Acidic Foods and Drinks. Acidic foods and drinks can exacerbate dental hypersensitivity by wearing down the tooth enamel and exposing the sensitive dentin. It’s best to limit these to maintain good oral health.
  • Use a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush. A hard-bristled toothbrush can cause adverse effects, such as gum erosion or tooth wear, increasing the risk of dentin hypersensitivity. A soft-bristled toothbrush provides sufficient cleaning without causing such damage.

Say Goodbye to Dental Sensitivity: Contact North Atlanta Family Dentistry Cumming Today

Dealing with dentin hypersensitivity can be a struggle, but with the right treatment and prevention strategies, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Say goodbye to the wince-inducing sensitivity and welcome a pain-free smile.

At North Atlanta Family Dentistry Cumming, we’re prepared to walk this journey with you. Feel free to reach out to us for professional advice and effective dentin hypersensitivity treatments personalized to suit your needs. We will create a custom treatment plan after evaluating your mouth and teeth.

After all, everyone deserves a comfortable and confident smile. Let us help you achieve just that! Book your appointment today.