Millions of people live with slight tooth sensitivity. Often, as a result of effective advertising, it is believed that sensitive teeth are just sensitive, and that comfort can improve with the right kind of toothpaste. We won’t argue the fact that there may be cases in which sensitivity is just that. However, we feel that it’s necessary to point out the other reasons that this problem may arise. If tooth sensitivity is perceived as a problem only, and never a symptom, the window for conservative treatment may close unnecessarily.
Sensitivity as a Symptom
In a large number of situations, sensitivity could be observed as a clue to something occurring somewhere within tooth structure. This could be:
- Localized wearing down, aka tooth decay. A cavity begins as a small area of wearing-away on the surface of a tooth. When enough enamel has been damaged, the nerves that lie at the center of the tooth will feel it and will respond more strongly to external stimulation, as in hot or cold substances.
- Widespread wearing down, aka tooth erosion. This problem has become more prevalent in recent years as our standard way of eating has leaned more toward the acidic side. Every soda, every cup of coffee, the even bite of vinaigrette is acidic. When acids sit on teeth for too long, enamel becomes soft and devoid of minerals. It wears away, taking with it the protection that is needed by the nerves of teeth.
- Exposed roots. The roots of teeth are supposed to be covered fully by the gums. Inflammation and infection cause gums to loosen their grip and pull away from teeth. This creates exposure at the most sensitive part of the tooth, the root. The proximity of nerves to the root leads to sensitivity.
Knowing why teeth are sensitive, we can create a plan of action to resolve the issue. The early treatment of tooth decay means less pain, less expense, and a smaller filling. Tooth erosion requires a greater extent of coverage. This may be achieved with porcelain veneers or crowns. Finally, gum recession, treated early, may improve with a deep cleaning and smoothing of the root surface.