A common complaint I hear this time of year, is from patients at their hygiene visit, as they tell me that their teeth hurt when they eat a piece of candy from their box of Valentine’s Day chocolates. “I must have a cavity”, they say. After looking in their mouth at the area of complaint, I usually don’t find a cavity. What I do see is recession, where the area at the gumline has shrunk away and exposed the root surface of the tooth. In this case, sugar is definitely a trigger for sensitivity, along with cold, hot and touch. Other causes of sensitivity can be bigger underlying problems such as a cavity or nerve damage that should not be left undetected and untreated.
The sensitivity is a reaction since the root surface does not have any enamel protecting it, leaving exposed pores that lead right to the nerves. When a trigger gets through the pore, it goes right to the nerve and hurts. This reaction is typically a quick “zing” that goes away in seconds, but is very serious.
What you can do everyday to reduce sensitivity…
- We, in the dental biz, say this often, but brushing and flossing everyday and seeing your hygienist regularly can reduce or even eliminate sensitivity. Excess plaque buildup inflames your gums, causing them to pull away from the teeth and increasing root surface exposure.
- Sensitivity toothpaste helps by ‘plugging up’ pores, so the triggers can’t get to the nerve.
- Use a soft toothbrush. The body naturally uses the minerals in your saliva to plug up those pores, but when you use a hard brush to scrub your teeth, it can scrape away the protective layer leaving the surface exposed.
- Limit acidic foods. Citrus, coffee, tomatoes and soda are all highly acidic and can cause sensitivity.
- Use fluoride products, like a fluoride rinse, prescription fluoride toothpaste, or fluoride varnish offered from your dentist or hygienist.
- Have a mouthguard made. Grinding your teeth is often a trigger for recession. Wearing a mouthguard on a regular basis can reduce additional recession.
In cases where sensitivity cannot be reduced by everyday home care, the root surfaces may need to be covered. Typically using a composite bonding or a gum graft that covers the root surface, today there is a procedure known as the Pinhole Surgical Technique that will adjust and re-establish your gumline back to where the enamel line moved, covering the exposed root surface.
Just remember that seeing your dentist and hygienist regularly, 2-4 times a year, will help us diagnose these issues before they become excessive or irreversible.
Nida Veitas-Purins, Dental Hygienist, Smileboston Brookline