Your 3-step guild to stop tooth sensitivityDo your teeth hurt when you eat something cold or sweet? If so, your teeth are probably sensitive.
Tooth sensitivity, also called dentin hypersensitivity, is a common condition that causes short and sharp pain. It often affects several teeth and is triggered in specific situations: when you eat, brush your teeth, rinse or breathe through your mouth.
Before treating tooth sensitivity, you must first find the cause. In this article, learn the three steps to stop tooth sensitivity.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Our teeth are composed of two mineralized layers: the outermost is enamel, followed by the dentin. In the center of the tooth is a soft tissue called the pulp. It carries the blood vessels and nerves of the tooth.
Tooth sensitivity results from dentin exposure. In contrast to enamel, dentin contains many fine canals called dentinal tubules. They go through the entire dentin thickness and connect with the tooth nerves. Under normal conditions, the dentin is protected by healthy tissues: enamel at the crown and gums at the roots. When these protective layers break down, they expose the dentinal tubules to the external environment. This will directly stimulate the nerve endings inside the tooth, causing sharp and short pain.
What can make your teeth sensitive?All the factors that can expose dentin can make your teeth sensitive. They also determine whether the pain will be temporary or chronic, limited to one tooth or several teeth.
Identifying the triggering factors is important as the first line of treatment is to eliminate the cause. When sensitivity occurs in several teeth, it often indicates that the factor involved is generalized. It could be gum recession or tooth wear.
These conditions usually result from continuous irritations that damage the protective teeth layers. For example, vigorous brushing, grinding, or persistent high acidity in your mouth can cause irreversible damage to the enamel, exposing the dentin.
Sometimes you may have sensitivity in one tooth. The factor involved is then localized. It could be a cavity, a fracture, or a poorly fitting filling. These conditions, in turn, can progress to the underlying tooth structures and reach the pulp that carries the nerves and blood vessels. At this point, an infection may occur. If left untreated, it can lead to an abscess with the risk of losing the tooth.
How to stop tooth sensitivity or toothache?Stopping tooth sensitivity means stopping its trigger. Therefore before starting a treatment, it is crucial to know the cause. Here are the three steps to get rid of tooth sensitivity:
Step 1. Find the root cause:Finding the pain's origin is the first step in treating tooth sensitivity.
First, ensure that your sensitivity is not due to a dental injury such as a cavity or crack. In this case, treatment consists of removing the decayed or damaged tissues, cleaning the tooth, and restoring it with a filling.
If the fracture is deep, extending below the gum line, your dentist will assess whether the tooth can be saved. If so, the tooth will likely need a crown to protect it from further damage.
A poorly fitting filling is another factor that can cause toothache. The restoration can sometimes leave a space where bacteria and saliva could infiltrate and irritate the tooth nerve.
Treatment of these conditions will stop the pain immediately. However, sometimes some discomfort may persist after the procedure, which is normal and should gradually decrease as healing progresses.
While waiting to see your dentist, you can try a few at-home solutions that can quickly relieve your pain:
- Alternate between cold and hot compresses for 10 minutes and see which works best for you. Inflammation is often relieved by cold, while muscle pain is best relieved by heat or massage.
- Try over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
- Rinse your mouth with salt water. Salt can help reduce inflammation, decrease swelling and relieve your pain, especially if it's coming from your gums.
- Apply clove oil to the painful areas. Cloves contain a natural compound called eugenol. This substance is known for its antiseptic and analgesic properties, especially for toothaches. It is even used in dentistry as a temporary filling to prevent pain and promote healing. You can also apply it at home as a temporary solution with a cotton ball before seeing your dentist.
Step 2. Oral hygiene measures:If your tooth sensitivity is not due to an apparent lesion (cavity or fracture), at-home preventive measures are the first choice for treating dental sensitivities.
This starts with improving your oral hygiene and introducing a toothpaste or gel with soothing ingredients.
- Correct your brushing method: Inappropriate brushing can cause gum recession and tooth wear, leading to sensitivity. You should avoid brushing your teeth with too much pressure, and definitely not with a hard-bristled toothbrush using horizontal strokes, as they are more aggressive to your teeth and gums. Instead, brush your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush using moderate pressure with the modified Bass technique.
- Adjust your diet: Eating too many sweet and acidic foods can gradually demineralize your teeth and increase their sensitivity. Therefore, avoid over-consuming foods with an erosive effect (such as sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks), especially outside of meals.
When consuming these foods, it is best to use a straw and sip water simultaneously to reduce their harmful effects on your teeth. Also, avoid brushing your teeth right afterward, as this can worsen the wear process.
- Use a desensitizing toothpaste: Different kinds of toothpaste can help you stop tooth sensitivity. Those containing 5% potassium nitrate work by numbing the nerve endings. The fluoride found in toothpaste is also valuable because it settles on the dentinal tubules and helps seal them. Therefore, desensitizing toothpaste protects the tooth nerve, preventing sensitivity from occurring.
You may not notice results immediately, but with consistency, symptoms will gradually improve, usually within 2 to 4 weeks.
- Use fluoride supplements: There are other fluoride products besides toothpaste. These include gels and mouthwashes that you can add to your oral hygiene routine by following your dentist's instructions.
- Avoid grinding your teeth: If you grind your teeth at night, consider wearing a mouthguard to avoid damaging your tooth enamel.
Step 3. Treatment at the dentist:If the sensitivity persists after 3 to 4 weeks of applying the oral hygiene measures, it is time to see your dentist. He may use some products that are more effective and often provide faster relief. He may even suggest a restoration or gum surgery (gum grafting) as a permanent solution. Among the different means used in the dental office:
- Fluoride varnish or gel: The fluoride gel or varnish used in dental offices is highly concentrated. They help strengthen the enamel, thus offering better protection of the pulp against external stimuli. In addition, it has antibacterial and anti-cariogenic properties that help prevent cavities.
- Potassium nitrate: Applied as a gel, it helps to desensitize the nerves.
- Isolating the tooth with a varnish or an adhesive: When the dentinal tubules are exposed in a specific area, your dentist may apply a product to close these fine canals and thus prevent sensitivity.
- Dental restoration: When your teeth are severely damaged, your dentist may restore the tooth with a filling or a dental crown. In addition to restoring the tooth shape, it will protect its underlying structures. This will protect the pulp and avoid some painful complications.
- Gum Grafting: If your sensitivity is caused by gum recession, gum grafting is a good alternative to cover the roots and stop the sensitivity. First, your dentist will evaluate the indication and whether your condition allows long-term stable results. Once the situation is clear, your dentist will choose the most appropriate technique. It often consists of removing a piece of soft tissue from the roof of your mouth and attaching it to the area to be covered.
Whatever the treatment, you must keep seeing your dentist regularly to maintain the results and prevent the sensitivity from coming back.