This article first appeared in Prime Magazine (Feb-Mar 2016 issue) . We have reproduced it for the reading pleasure of those of you who missed it when it was published.
Have you experienced a sharp pain from your tooth when you drink a glass of cold or hot water, or when eating your favourite ice cream? The pain is usually momentary, but will return whenever you eat or drink something too hot or cold. If this scenario sounds familiar, chances are that you may have dentine hypersensitivity (also known as sensitive teeth). We speak to the team at Specialist Dental Group to find out more.
In a study commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline among adults aged 16 to 45 years old, it is found that almost 50% of the Singapore population suffer from symptoms of tooth sensitivity. Also, most sufferers are between 20 and 50 years of age.
Symptoms of sensitive teeth include:
- Discomfort or short and sharp pain in the teeth when exposed to stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet or sour food and drinks
- Pain when teeth is touched with one’s tongue
The pain is a result of the dentine (inner layer of the tooth) being exposed. As the dentine contains numerous tiny tunnels (tubules) that extend to the nerves in the tooth centre, changes in acidity, temperature and pressure are believed to affect the nerves, triggering pain.
Here are a few of the most common causes for teeth sensitivity.
Brushing with too much force
If you’re brushing your teeth with the vigour you use to scrub toilet floors or dirty clothes, you are doing more harm than good for your oral health. Brushing too hard would damage the soft gum tissues, causing the gums to recede and exposing the roots of the tooth which is not protected by hard enamel.
Tip: Use a soft bristled toothbrush and brush lightly, in a circular motion.
Frequent consumption of acidic drinks
Although teeth are the hardest part of our body, they are susceptible to teeth erosion by acidic drinks (eg. soft drinks, fruit juices, wines, coffee and tea). Repeated exposure to these drinks would cause hard tissues of the teeth to dissolve in the long run, exposing the dentine.
Tip: Drink acidic drinks using a straw or swallow quickly to minimise the exposure of the teeth to acid. After every few sips, swish plain water around your mouth to minimise the acid from lingering on your teeth. Remember to wait for at least one hour before brushing your teeth.
Absence of good oral hygiene and decayed teeth
Plaque accumulates quickly over a short period of time and going without brushing or flossing for even a week can result in deterioration of one’s overall dental condition. Plaque that is not removed hardens into tartar and gives bacteria an environment to thrive in. It weakens the enamel and the tooth is less likely to fight the bacteria, resulting in tooth decay.
As the decay progresses, the sensitivity increases in intensity and duration (lingering). If there is a painful reaction to hot stimulus, then the tooth is likely to be irreversibly damaged and will require more extensive treatment.
Tip: Follow the rule of 2-2-2: Brush 2 times a day, for at least 2 minutes each and visit a dentist 2 times a year. Floss between teeth at least once a day and avoid using toothpicks.
Gum disease is a silent, slow-progressing inflammatory process that causes the loss of bone and gums around the roots of one’s teeth. If left untreated, the disease can progress such that the roots of the teeth are exposed, causing sensitive teeth.
Tip: Visit a dentist two times a year for a routine check-up and cleaning of teeth. This will ensure that the disease is picked up in its early stages. Depending on the severity, one may want to visit a Periodontist (Gum Specialist) for various types of gum treatments to control and stop gum disease.
Teeth Whitening Procedures
Depending on individual, teeth whitening procedures may result in sensitive teeth. Thus, it is important to ensure that consultation with a dentist is done before undergoing this procedure to minimize sensitivity issues. The degree of shades by which the teeth are whitened may also affect sensitivity.
Tip: Do consult a dentist before embarking on any DIY teeth whitening treatments as overzealous use of such treatments can damage tooth enamel.
The key for treating sensitive teeth is to determine the source of sensitivity. Most people tend to leave the issue alone when the pain does not bother them too much. However, Dr Ho Kok Sen, Dental Specialist in Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, cautions that tooth sensitivity is a clinical symptom that may indicate a more troublesome dental condition such as tooth decay, cracked fillings or fractured teeth.
Therefore, make regular visits to the dentist to ensure that tooth sensitivity is prevented or diagnosed early. One’s tooth enamel cannot grow back on its own and restorative treatment can be expensive, hence prevention is always better than treatment!
|Are toothpastes for sensitive useful?
Yes, they are useful in most cases. Rub a small amount of desensitizing toothpaste on your fingers or cotton swab on to the sensitive teeth before you go to bed. Your teeth should feel less sensitive within a week. Desensitizing toothpaste contains ingredients which can fill up the channels (also known as tubules) in the dentin.