What does it mean to have sensitivity in one tooth?

one tooth suddenly sensitive
Experiencing dental pain, whether it affects all of your teeth or just one, can be a distressing and uncomfortable situation.

Tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, is a common form of toothache among adults, and the risk tends to increase with age. The symptoms often manifest as intense, sharp pain that subsides once the trigger is removed.

The reason behind this is the deterioration of the tooth's protective layers. As a result, it becomes more vulnerable and prone to sensitivity from things like hot or cold foods and pressure.

Identifying the underlying cause of this sudden sensitivity is crucial as the first line of treatment is to eliminate the triggering factors.

In this article, we will delve into the reasons behind a tooth's sudden sensitivity and provide various solutions to alleviate the discomfort.

Understanding the tooth sensitivity process

the layers of the tooth, including enamel and dentin

To understand tooth sensitivity, you must first understand the tooth underlying structures.

The tooth is covered with hard tissues, including enamel and dentin. These tissues are mineralized and are devoid of nerves, therefore insensitive to pain. In the center of the tooth is a soft tissue called the pulp. It carries the nerves and blood vessels, providing life and sensitivity to the tooth.

The enamel is the outermost layer, considered the hardest tissue in our body. It protects and isolates the tooth from external irritants such as bacteria and hot or cold food.

Understanding tooth sensitivity: How is dentin connected to the tooth's nerves?

Dentin is also a mineralized tissue located beneath the enamel. However, unlike enamel, dentin contains tiny channels called dentin tubules, which range from 20,000 to 65,000 per square millimeter. These channels run throughout the thickness of the dentin and reach the tooth nerve.

When the enamel wears away or breaks down, the dentin is exposed, leaving the tooth vulnerable to the outside environment. This means stimulations such as cold or acidic foods can travel through the tubules and reach the nerves.

Potential Causes of One-Tooth Sensitivity

Dental sensitivity can have a widespread impact, affecting numerous teeth in what we refer to as generalized sensitivity. This implies that the triggering factor has managed to affect multiple teeth simultaneously.

Nonetheless, there are instances where sensitivity is limited to a single tooth. In such cases, one-tooth sensitivity is commonly attributed to a local factor, which may include:

1. Tooth decay

The primary cause of toothache is tooth decay. It progresses slowly and eats away at the tooth's hard tissues (enamel and dentin).

In its early stages, decay may appear as white or brown spots. These spot lesions often go unnoticed as they typically lack symptoms.

However, once the initial spot transforms into a visible hole or cavity, you may start experiencing sensitivities. This is because the cavity indicates that the underlying dentin has been reached.

One challenging aspect of decay is its ability to hide between teeth, which can make it difficult to detect in the early stages. This emphasizes the importance of regular dental visits for early diagnosis before decay progresses to more serious complications.

How is tooth decay treated?

Effective treatment for tooth decay depends on the stage of the condition.

In the early stages, decay is reversible and can be treated through various approaches.
  • Remineralizing products.
  • Oral hygiene practices.
  • Dietary modifications.

However, in more advanced stages of decay, where a visible cavity has formed, a dental filling at your dentist is necessary to halt the progression. First, the decayed portion of the tooth is removed, then, a dental filling is used to restore the tooth's structure and function.

2. Gum recession on a single tooth

Gum recession is a prevalent issue that causes your gums to pull away gradually from your teeth. The primary causes are gum disease and continuous irritations, frequently resulting from aggressive brushing.

Gum recession can occur either in multiple teeth or isolated areas (involving only one or a few teeth). As the condition progresses, it exposes a portion of the roots, leading to increased tooth sensitivity.

3. Tooth wear

Tooth decay is not the only condition that can break down the tooth's hard layers. Tooth wear is another issue that can lead to the gradual thinning of the tooth enamel. As the enamel wears away over time, it exposes the underlying dentin, leading to increased tooth sensitivity.

Tooth wear can have various causes, including excessive rubbing or grinding of the teeth, a condition known as bruxism. This repetitive grinding motion can wear down the enamel, making the tooth more vulnerable to sensitivity.

Additionally, increased acidity in the mouth, often caused by poor oral hygiene, frequent consumption of sweet and sour foods, or underlying stomach problems, can gradually dissolve the minerals that compose the tooth structure. This process, known as dental erosion, results in smooth, shiny tooth surfaces.

4. Dental crowding

A misaligned tooth, especially if it sits higher than other teeth, will receive excessive force during chewing. This puts a lot of stress on the tooth and its surrounding tissues, causing sensitivity. Malposition can also increase the problem of tooth wear.

5. Fracture

A cracked or chipped tooth can also be the cause of sudden tooth sensitivity.

These types of injuries compromise the protective barrier that shields the tooth nerve. Consequently, bacteria and debris from the mouth can penetrate the tooth through the fracture line, resulting in pain and sensitivity.

If left untreated, a fracture can potentially lead to an infection, posing the risk of more severe complications.

6. Tooth filling

A filled tooth is more likely to be sensitive than a natural tooth. It happens especially if the filling is large or does not bond well with the tooth, leaving space for bacteria to enter.

7. Recent periodontal treatment

Deep dental cleaning, also called scaling and root planing is a procedure performed at the dentist's office. It consists of cleaning the visible portion of the tooth as well as the hidden areas below the gum line. Scaling and root planing are essential steps in gum disease treatment. They help remove plaque and tartar, the primary cause of gingivitis and periodontitis.

After the procedure, you may experience some pain as the tartar and buildup that used to cover your teeth are no longer present. The good news is that this sensitivity does not last long, usually for about a week. If you notice the pain persists longer than expected, visit your dentist, as it could be related to another issue.

How to Manage One-Tooth Sensitivity

The first thing to do is to consult your dentist to determine the root cause, as the first phase of treatment focuses on eliminating triggering factors such as improper brushing, cavities, and fractures.

Once the underlying cause has been addressed, if sensitivity persists, the main approach to treatment involves desensitizing the tooth. This can be achieved through various methods, including the use of remineralizing products or desensitizing gels.

1. Removing the Root Cause:

To address sensitivity in one or multiple teeth, it is essential to identify and eliminate the underlying cause. Here are some key strategies:

  1. Correcting brushing technique: Gentle brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and using proper brushing techniques can prevent further damage to the tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity.

  2. Reducing sour or acidic foods: Limiting the consumption of acidic foods and beverages helps minimize enamel erosion, thereby reducing tooth sensitivity.

  3. Fixing fillings or treating tooth decay: Addressing dental issues such as faulty or worn-out fillings, cavities, or tooth decay through dental treatments can alleviate sensitivity and prevent further complications.

  4. Treating tooth fracture: Seeking prompt treatment for a cracked or fractured tooth is crucial to prevent the entry of bacteria and debris, which can cause pain and infections. Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may involve dental bonding, veneers, or dental crowns.

2. Making the Tooth Insensitive:

When it comes to making the tooth less sensitive, there are two primary approaches to consider:

1. Desensitizing Agents:

Desensitizing agents involve the application of specific products to your teeth. These agents work in different ways:

  • Blocking the Pain: Some desensitizing toothpaste or gels contain Potassium Nitrate as the active ingredient. This compound helps block the transmission of pain signals from the tooth nerves to the brain.
    Examples of desensitizing toothpaste include Sensodyne Rapid Relief or Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief.

  • Filling the Exposed Dentinal Tubules: Desensitizing products that aim to fill the exposed dentinal tubules typically contain ingredients like Novamin or Fluoride. These substances help create a protective layer over the exposed dentin, reducing sensitivity.
    Examples of desensitizing toothpaste for filling dentinal tubules include Crest Pro-Health Toothpaste or Sensodyne Repair and Protect.

2. In-Office Treatment:

For more severe cases or when home solutions do not provide sufficient relief, in-office treatments may be recommended. These treatments can include:

  • Stronger Desensitizing Agents: Dentists can apply products containing a higher concentration of desensitizing ingredients than over-the-counter products. They are formulated to provide more effective and rapid relief.

  • Sealing the Exposed Dentine: In situations where the dentinal tubules are extensively exposed, dentists may use a bonding agent or a sealant to seal the uncovered dentin. This helps create a protective barrier and reduce sensitivity.

  • Gum Grafting Procedure: If sensitivity is caused by receding gums, you may be a candidate for a gum graft. This involves taking tissue from another area of the mouth and placing it onto the receding gumline. By covering exposed roots, sensitivity will be significantly reduced.

How can tooth sensitivity develop if left untreated?

If left untreated, tooth sensitivity can lead to various complications as a result of the underlying issues. Here are some potential developments if tooth sensitivity is not addressed:

  • Progressive Cavity Growth: Neglecting treatment can allow the cavity to progress deeper. This can lead to severe pain, infection, and ultimately tooth loss.

  • Infection from Tooth Fracture: When sensitivity is due to a tooth fracture, the entry of bacteria into the tooth can result in infection.

  • Worsening Tooth Wear: If tooth sensitivity is a result of tooth wear, the pain and loss of tooth substance can worsen. Over time, this can lead to increased discomfort and further damage to the tooth structure.

How to prevent tooth sensitivity?

Preventing tooth sensitivity always starts with improving oral hygiene. Consider these solutions:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush to avoid hurting your enamel.
  • Clean between your teeth once a day with tools such as dental floss or an interdental brush, whichever you prefer.
  • Visit your dentist regularly to detect and treat oral conditions in their early stages.
  • Consider fluoride supplements available as a mouthwash or gel after checking with your dentist first. Fluoride is a powerful substance that strengthens enamel, helps reverse early caries lesions, and protects against sensitivity problems.
  • Wear a mouthguard if you grind your teeth.
  • Avoid foods that may aggravate your sensitivity, especially acidic and overly sweet, such as soda, caramel, and coffee. Instead, opt for foods rich in water and minerals, beneficial for teeth, such as yogurt, cheese, milk, green vegetables, and fish. Finally, drink plenty of water throughout the day to prevent acidity from increasing and thus avoid tooth wear.