Teeth that are sensitive should be examined in order to ensure there are no problems, such as tooth decay, fractures in the teeth, or root exposure do to gum disease.
However, most of the time tooth sensitivity is a normal part of how a tooth functions. Just like the nerves in your fingers “warn” you if a stove is too hot, teeth have a natural bio-feedback system to protect the tooth structure.
Teeth are made primarily of three things: Enamel, Dentin, and Cementum. Enamel has no “feeling”, much like finger nails, or hair. It can be adjusted without local anesthesia. Cementum is a thin protective layer that covers the root surface of the tooth, and helps anchor the tooth in the bone of the jaws. Dentin makes up the rest of the tooth. Dentin is the reason teeth can feel sensitive.
Dentin is porous, and has channels reaching from the pulp or nerve of the tooth to the outer surfaces. Under the enamel, and under the gums, these channels are protected and covered, but at the gum line these channels can be exposed to the outside environment of the oral cavity. The fluid in these channels can and be subjected to changes in temperature, pressure (toothbrush, fingernail, toothpicks), and sweets. When one of these initiators touches the exposed dentin, the fluid in the channels are “moved”. The nerve tissue lining the pulp chamber inside the tooth senses these changes, and sends a pain signal to the brain. This usually causes the patient to immediately feel a sharp pain that fades within a few seconds, or when the cause of the cold, pressure, or sweets are removed.
Tooth sensitive tooth pastes can help, but are not an overnight cure. Teeth need to be kept free of plaque so the acid in plaque doesn’t undo the progress that is made by using these toothpastes. Also bruxism (grinding and clenching teeth) can be a significant force that will contribute to your teeth being, and staying sensitive. Some patients will need to have a bite-guard appliance made to help cushion the teeth from bruxism. If you have questions about sensitivity let Dr. Decker know at your next appointment.