Dental Matters: There are ways to get relief from sensitive teeth

Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem. PHOTO: Lesly B. Juarez

Do you cringe when you take that first sip of something cold from the fridge? If so, you may be suffering from tooth sensitivity.

This common dental problem has many causes, including cavities, cracked teeth, enamel wear from tooth grinding, leaking fillings and receding gums. Sensitivity to hot or cold liquids is the most likely signal, but it can manifest itself in sensitivity to sweet foods, breathing in cold air or brushing and flossing. The most common cause of sensitive teeth is exposed roots of teeth caused by receding gums. The bad news – receding gums are a physiologic change (just like greying hair), meaning almost everyone will experience some receding of the gums over their lifetime. The good news? Not all cases of receding gums result in tooth sensitivity.

If the movement of the gums happens slowly and passively over many years, there is much less likelihood of sensitivity occurring. More rapid and aggressive receding, such as the kind caused by clenching or grinding of teeth, overly aggressive brushing, or a highly acidic diet, is far more likely to cause a sensitivity problem.

Fortunately, dentistry offers numerous effective solutions to the problem. The first step is always a visit to the dentist, in order to determine the cause of sensitivity. The dentist will first check for cavities, defective fillings or cracks in teeth. If these are ruled out, the diagnosis is usually hypersensitive dentine at the gumline caused by receding gums. The first line of treatment for this is the daily use of a sensitivity toothpaste. Unlike many oral care products, where the actual results do not live up to the marketing claims, sensitivity toothpastes are actually very effective in treating most cases of sensitivity caused by receding gums.

If toothpaste alone does not alleviate the problem, the dentist may desensitize the teeth with a paint-on application, or may need to resort to a bonded restoration or crown. They may also recommend the wearing of a nightguard or other oral device to limit the effects of clenching and grinding on gumline recession. Recent scientific evidence also suggests that there may be a connection between sleep apnea and other airway problems and overnight grinding of teeth. As a result, the dentist may also recommend a sleep study to test for sleep apnea.

The bottom line is that one need not suffer with sensitive teeth. A brief consultation with the dentist or dental hygienist can often result in a quick and effective solution.

Dr. Allan Katchky is a dentist in the East End.


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