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  • Dr Vyla Ellis

Sensitive Teeth?

Do you shy away from iced water? You're not alone. Tooth sensitivity is the most common condition we hear patients complain of. Today we discuss why tooth sensitivity occurs and what can be done about it.

What is Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is a sharp pain experienced when the teeth come into contact with something cold. It is usually felt on a number of teeth and sometimes affects the whole mouth. Beware that decay or an abscessed tooth can also cause a sharp pain and for this reason it is important to have the cause of pain diagnosed by a dentist.

Why does it happen?

There are several causes of tooth sensitivity

1. Loss of enamel

Enamel is the outer protective layer of the tooth. If the enamel is lost it exposes the softer inner part of the tooth causing sensitivity. Loss of enamel is usually due to heavy handed brushing and/or use of a moderate or hard toothbrush. The purpose of brushing is to remove the plaque which is very soft. A soft bristled toothbrush and gentle pressure is best.

2. Acid wear

This could be a long term or short term problem

Short term: Common when acidic food and drink intake has increased. We often see this in patients who eat a lot of citrus when it is in season or heading into summer when there is a tendency to drink more wine or spirits with mixers.

Long term: Exposure to acids long term erodes the enamel from the tooth resulting in sensitivity.

Acid could be from:

  • Food and beverage: soft drinks, fruits, juices, wine, tomatoes, lemons

  • Reflux

  • Frequent vomiting

3. Gum disease

Gum disease involves loss of the bone and gum which support the teeth. This can result in gum recession (the tooth appears longer) which exposes a softer part of the tooth which is more sensitive.

What can I do about it?

  • Reduce acids from your diet

  • See your GP for management of acid reflux

  • Use a sensitive tooth paste such as Colgate Sensitive Pro or Sensodyne

  • Change to a soft bristled tooth brush and use gentle pressure when brushing

  • See your dental hygienist at least 6 monthly for treatment of gum disease

  • Protective coatings or protective fillings can be placed where enamel has been lost

  • In cases of severe acid wear restoration of the teeth with be required. Talk to your dentist about this.

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