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Sensitive teeth

This condition mainly affects people between 20 to 40 years of age and is far more common in women. Sensitive teeth are one of the main reasons for patients to visit their dentist.
Some people are lucky to only feel a small amount of discomfort whilst for others it manifests itself as severe shooting pains lasting several hours. It can really have an impact on someone’s life.

What is the definition of sensitive teeth?

Simply stated it is when the lower, or underlying, layers of the tooth are exposed by the gums receding. The nerve in the tooth is susceptible to hot and cold drinks and even sugary foods. As a result pain is experienced.

What is the cause?

Gum disease, or Gingivitis, causes the gums to become inflamed which can result in the breakdown of the ligament which anchors the tooth in place. Pain occurs as the root is exposed.

CLEANING PROCEDURES The over zealous use of a toothbrush, or using too firm a bristle type will wear away the enamel and cause the gums to recede.

TEETH GRINDING Over time constant grinding will wear down the enamel. Patients who have Bruxism must consult their dental professional for advice.

DIET A person with a healthy diet rich in smoothies, juices and fresh fruit may in fact experience breakdown of the enamel of the tooth. This is due to the high acidity of the foods that they eat ie citrus fruits and tomatoes

CRACKED TEETH If teeth suffer any trauma cracks or chips may appear. Plaque can then access the tooth and inflame the inner area.

GENERAL AGING Simply, over time, general wear and tear can cause sensitivity as the teeth weaken

WHITENING PROCEDURES Some procedures, both professional and DIY ones can cause problems.

DENTAL PROCEDURES After some normal procedures especially root planning, or having a crown fitted, it is not uncommon for the patient to experience some sensitivity for several weeks until things have settled down.

The Diagnosis
If you have sensitive teeth it will be highlighted at your normal appointment by your dentist or hygienist. They will check for gum disease and tooth decay plus any exposed roots.

After diagnosis what next?
Effective treatment depends specifically on the actual cause of the condition. General treatment options are:

Fluoride gel
This can be applied every week or so to reduce sensitivity by building up the protection around the teeth.

Desensitising product
Treatment must be carried out by a professional but it can help to alleviate the pain.

Specialist filling
Some professionals will fill the area around the tooth where it meets the gum. This will then seal up any exposed dentine.

Root Canal
If none of the above have, or will work, then a root canal procedure may be advisable.

It should be noted that if sensitivity is due to teeth grinding then a professional will help you to reduce the severity of the grinding and as a result the sensitivity will reduce also.
Likewise it is not uncommon for sensitivity to occur after a new filling has been put in. This should disappear after a few weeks but if not a dentist can help with additional treatment.

How to reduce the risk of sensitive teeth
As ever the main way to prevent any problem is to have excellent oral hygiene procedures. Always brush and floss your teeth daily and check for any missed areas. Keep the brush at a sensible angle to the gum and brush gently in a downwards direction or in slow round movements. Never scrub or brush upwards as this will damage the gum area. Periodically check the bristles. If they are squashed and pointing in all directions then you are using too much pressure.

Diet
Reduce your intake of acidic foods and when drinking smoothies or juices use a straw to minimise contact between the acid and the tooth. Limit sugary foods and fizzy drinks. This is especially important for children.

Mouth Guard
Using one may help patients with Bruxism. Simply use one whilst asleep to minimise damage.

Toothbrush care
Use a soft bristled brush and improve your cleaning technique. Change it every three months, try to use a specific date eg 1st January 1st April etc or simply make a note in your diary. Ask your dentist to recommend a fluoride mouth wash.

Tooth whitening
Sensitivity is a common side effect of whitening procedures so discuss your treatment fully with your dentist.

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