I love biting into a cold icy-pole on a hot Australian summers day. Does the thought make you shudder and protectively clamp your lips over your teeth? You might be suffering from dentinal hypersensitivity, commonly known as sensitive teeth.
So what causes it and what can be done to help? First of all, it's important to remember that some dental problems can also present as a sensitivity to hot and cold. Decay, erosion, grinding, cracked teeth, receding gums, and failing restorations (fillings) can all cause sensitivity. Before embarking on a home regime to manage your sensitivity, it's a good idea to have a dental check-up to make sure there's nothing more serious going on. Understanding dentinal hypersensitivity In the absence of the other problems I mentioned above, the pain felt by sensitive teeth is not actually a danger.
Teeth are made up of three layers:
- Enamel - which is hard and mineralised, forming the outer layer.
- Dentine - the second layer which forms the main body of the tooth.
- Pulp - which is the living part at the centre of each tooth, containing cells, blood vessels and nerves.
When looked at under a microscope, dentine resembles a honeycomb. It is full of tiny holes which form tunnels between the enamel and the pulp (dentinal tubules for the technically inclined). These tubules are filled with fluid, and when something hot or cold comes in contact with the tooth the fluid expands and contracts. The nerves in the pulp are stimulated by these pressure changes, and the person attached to the tooth feels pain.
So how can you make your teeth less sensitive? There are a number of products out there which all work on a similar principle: blocking up the dentinal tubules.
- Sensitive toothpastes will generally take a couple of weeks of daily use before the holes are blocked enough for someone to feel an improvement in their sensitivity. If your teeth are sensitive, it's a good idea to routinely use a sensitive toothpaste daily for maintenance. It's a really good idea to avoid rinsing with water after you brush, simply spit any excess paste out and be on your way. Leaving a thin smear of paste on your teeth will increase its effect.
- CPP-ACP is a milk protein and calcium complex which is great for sensitivity. It's available in the form of chewing gum or paste, but only through a dentist.
- Professional desensitising agents can be applied by your dentist, therapist or hygienist if the things you're doing at home just aren't cutting the mustard. There's a range of things that can be helpful: concentrated fluoride, CPP-ACP, thin layers of filling material, or a concentrated version of the active ingredient in sensitive toothpaste.
Getting your dentinal hypersensitivity under control can make eating and drinking that much more enjoyable. It's so simple to switch out your regular toothpaste for a sensitive one, so why not give it a try?