There are many issues associated with the teeth and gums, some more concerning than others. For example, when one more teeth become sensitive, you’ll want to know why – and what to do about it.

Understanding sensitive teeth

Dentin hypersensitivity is the clinical term given to sensitive teeth. As the name of the condition likely suggests, this type of sensitivity arises from a protective layer of the teeth known as dentin.

Dentin plays several roles. This hard outer layer helps to protect the internal structure of the teeth from damage. However, dentin also relays nerve impulses to the brain (as it is partially comprised of nerve tissue). This is why the pain comes when you drink hot tea or a cold beverage.

What Causes Dentin Hypersensitivity?

One primary cause of this condition involves the enamel of our teeth. If this enamel becomes worn down over time due to poor oral hygiene habits, it can expose the dentin.

Dentin contains tiny tube-like structures that are comprised of nerve fibres. If these fibres are not adequately protected by tooth enamel, they will become extremely sensitive.

To put it simply, tooth sensitivity involves nerves that are exposed via a loss of dental enamel. Here are some of the scenarios which can lead to this condition if left unchecked:

• Tooth decay
• Cavities
• Gum disease
• Receding gums
• Worn enamel (as mentioned earlier)
• Cracked or otherwise damaged teeth

While sensitive teeth are considered to be quite common, this may still be a cause for concern -- if the pain becomes severe or if there are other symptoms such as localised swelling, a foul taste within the mouth or a lo-grade fever. It is therefore wise to seek a professional diagnosis very soon.

Common Signs and Symptoms

So, how will you know if the pain that you are experiencing could be potentially related to dentin hypersensitivity? Closely examine the symptoms themselves. This condition typically involves short bouts of pain that are relieved once a specific stimulus has been removed. Here are some primary symptoms that are often indicative of dentin hypersensitivity:

• Pain when the teeth are exposed to hot or cold temperatures.
• Short sensations of discomfort when eating specific foods.
• Pain when touching one or more teeth that ablates once physical pressure is removed.
• Feelings of discomfort when cleaning your teeth and gums.
• Teeth that are sensitive to sweet or acidic foods.

While it is rather common to experience one or more of these symptoms from time to time, persistent sensations of pain and discomfort could very well indicate that you are suffering from overly sensitive teeth.

Risk Factors

Many symptoms mimic other potential dental problems such as cavities or gum disease. This is once again why it is always prudent to see your dentist. He or she will also take additional risk factors into account when evaluating your condition.

Some variables that may increase your chances of developing dentin hypersensitivity include:

• Brushing and flossing your teeth with too much force (this can wear away the enamel over time).
• Making it a habit of eating sugary or sweet foods on a regular basis.
• If you already have problems with your gums (such as gingivitis or periodontitis).
• Abrasive oral care products.
• Unconsciously grinding your teeth (a condition known as bruxism).

Dentists will evaluate these and other factors carefully before making a concrete diagnosis.

Treatment Option

Let's now assume for a moment that you have been diagnosed with dental hypersensitivity. What are some common treatment options to consider? There are two common approaches.

One involves modifying your current lifestyle habits -- while the other is a more straightforward type of intervention.
In terms of lifestyle recommendations:

• switch to a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth.
• brush and floss gently to keep any remaining enamel intact.
• make dietary changes so you’re eating a healthier plant-based diet.
• use a fluoride-based gel toothpaste to strengthen the enamel of your teeth (your dentist can prescribe one).

If you are experiencing a significant amount of tooth pain or sensitivity, you might instead opt for a tooth bonding or a veneer (these will protect any exposed dentin).

Should your sensitivity be the result of receding gums, a tissue graft may also be recommended.

There are times when the pain becomes so severe that a root canal is recommended. This will completely eliminate the pain, as it removes the nerves associated with the tooth in question.

Final thoughts

While sensitive teeth are normally nothing to worry about, there are times when feelings of discomfort increase over time. And the pain may be a symptom of another condition, like tooth decay, so it’s important to get treatment early to preserve your tooth.

It is therefore important to practice the proper oral hygiene habits in order to prevent such a situation from occurring. Of course, make it a point to regularly visit your dentist. Early detection is arguably the best way to prevent long-term issues.