Sensitive Teeth FAQ

What If I Have Sensitive Teeth?

If your teeth are extra sensitive, one of the joys of life is compromised: you can’t enjoy your favorite hot and cold foods. And perhaps winter sports are a bit troublesome when you have to breathe that cold air.

To understand how teeth can become so sensitive, and how we can deal with it, it’s helpful to first look at how a tooth is structured.

Structure of teeth

  • A tooth is thought of as being in three sections:
  • The crown – the white part we can see;
  • The neck – the middle area at the gum line; and
  • The root – the part below the gum line. Our front teeth have just one root, but the molars and pre-molars have four.

If you imagine a tooth sliced in half vertically, there are layers working inwards:

  • The visible part is the enamel on the outside, above the gums. Enamel is the hardest substance in our body, even harder than bones.
  • Beneath the enamel is the dentin, which extends down below the gumline to the tooth’s root. It’s like bone but harder and denser and it comprises the main bulk of a tooth. It’s covered very thinly with another hard tissue called cementum.
  • Beneath the dentin is the pulp cavity which contains nerves and blood vessels. It extends down inside the tooth in what we call the root canal. It opens into the surrounding bone, allowing nerves and blood vessels to enter the pulp cavity.

Receding gums

Typically, our teeth become more sensitive when our gums start to recede. The gums cover the tooth roots, which have no enamel to protect them. When those roots are exposed it can be quite uncomfortable and even painful.

What causes our gums to recede?

  • Poor dental hygiene, which allows plaque to build up on the teeth and gums. Gradually the plaque hardens and becomes tartar. Bacteria in the tartar cause gum disease, which causes gum recession.
  • Many of us brush our teeth too hard, or use a toothbrush that’s too harsh. Over time, this can wear down the gum tissue and start exposing the tooth roots.

Why are tooth roots so sensitive?

There are tiny pores in those roots, little tunnels which lead to the tooth’s pulp. So hot, cold, and pressure is transmitted directly to the nerves, causing pain.

Other causes of sensitivity

  • Grinding your teeth
  • A tiny crack in the tooth enamel
  • Too much acidic food, (e.g. sodas, tea, orange juice), which erode the tooth enamel
  • Overuse of mouthwashes – they contain alcohol, which causes tissue to slough off, thus supplying food for more bacteria, which cause more decay

Temporary sensitivity

After dental work, such as root planing, crown placement, fillings, or even teeth cleaning, sensitivity can increase for a while. It usually fades after a month or so.

Sensitivity toothpaste

Most dentists will recommend using a special toothpaste such as Sensodyne, which contains potassium nitrate.

  • The FDA has approved potassium nitrate as a way to treat sensitive teeth.
  • It penetrates the enamel and helps protect the nerve inside the tooth.

Some sensitivity toothpastes contain fluoride. Fluoride helps with tooth protection because it combines with minerals that are in our saliva, to strengthen the teeth and help prevent root caries, which is decay in the tooth’s root. The root has no enamel protecting it.

If you suffer from extra sensitive teeth, Dr. Miller can examine them to determine the cause, and advise you as to how best to deal with the problem.

If you’re contemplating other dental work and wondering if your sensitive teeth will make it all more painful and uncomfortable, bring that concern to Dr. Miller, so he can explain how he’ll deal with it.

To set up an initial consultation for your dental work, call or email the office of Thomas R. Miller, DDS today.