You know the “ouch” feeling when food hits that sensitive spot and you temporarily don’t know what to do until the “ouch” fades away. It usually fades away when the nerve inside the tooth is healthy. But a healthy nerve may be covered with a problem tooth. When the hard coating of a tooth is disrupted or when the root is exposed by receding gums, a nerve can experience shocks that give you a real wake up call.
Sometimes, teeth can experience different problems brought on by trauma, by gum disease, or by cavities. These things can cause sensitivity and may require proper diagnosis and treatment by your dentist.
Healthy teeth are covered with enamel that is exceptionally durable. Eating or drinking extremely hot and then cold foods or liquids can cause thermal shock and cracks in the enamel. This can allow temperature changes to enter the sensitive dentin under the enamel and cause the ouch sensation. This is also true about cavities, which penetrate the enamel and allow hot and cold sensitivity. If a filling has worn or cracked, a pathway to the dentin will also allow hot or cold foods and liquids to penetrate.
Gum disease will cause the protective layer of gum tissue to recede from the root surface and expose a layer called cementum which insulates the root surface. When brushing or clenching has stripped away cementum, the root which is also made up of dentin becomes more sensitive and can react badly to hot, cold, or even to touch.
Teeth that have developed sensitivity can have the proper treatment to reduce it. The first step is to see if the toothpaste being used contributes to sensitivity. Some whitening toothpastes or gels will cause this problem. If so, switching to a sensitive tooth formula may be helpful. Your dentist may be able to recommend a special desensitizing gel containing potassium nitrate or extra fluoride which will coat the teeth and reduce sensitivity in otherwise healthy teeth.
If the enamel or root is damaged, a filling may be helpful. If the damage is more extensive a crown might be suggested to strengthen the tooth and rescue sensitivity. In the worst cases the nerve may not recover and a root canal which can treat the damaged nerve, but preserve the tooth may help you.
In all cases, your dentist is your best ally to discover the causes of tooth sensitivity in your mouth and to help alleviate the symptoms with several possible options. It is important to not ignore the symptoms and to schedule an appointment because sometimes the sensitivity is only the first warning of a possible larger problem to come.