It is getting cold outside as we are in the middle of the winter weather. Living in Wisconsin, this is an inevitable consequence of our lovely four seasons. For some people, cold weather means sensitive teeth. Some people have such sensitive teeth that when they breath in cold air, the cold temperature shoots right through their teeth and sends those dental nerves into a frenzy. Have you ever wondered what causes dental hypersensitivity?
There are many reasons for teeth sensitivity including, exposed root surface, exposed dentin, decay, teeth whitening, tooth trauma, and several other things. Today we will focus on sensitivity caused by exposed root surface and dentin.
If you were to look at a tooth’s surface under an electron microscope, it would look like Swiss cheese. Deep within those holes is the arm of a sensory cell that reaches through, searching for any stimuli. If there is anything sending a signal to this cell, whether it be too cold, too hot, electricity, or touch it sends the signal to the nerve (pulp) of the tooth. Unfortunately for us, the nerves in our teeth can only relay one message to our brain no matter the stimuli to our teeth. The only message it can send is “PAIN!”
The enamel of our teeth is very resistant to sensitivity unless it gets exceedingly thin from things like acid erosion, toothpaste abrasion, or decay. When we get gingival recession, the root surface of our tooth is exposed and our root surface is not resistant to sensitivity at all. The holes can be wide open there and very close to the nerve compared to the enamel portion of the tooth. Reducing sensitivity on the root surface can be accomplished many different ways.
First, the least invasive of all treatments would be to simply start brushing with a anti sensitivity toothpaste or mouthwash. These toothpastes and mouthwashes use specific minerals to clog those tubes in the teeth, to prevent any of those signals getting to the nerve of the tooth. Second, you can cover the root surface with a dental filling, or a clear resin coating. The clear resin coating typically only lasts a few months before it is abraded off with normal tooth brushing and eating. Lastly, you can cover the root surface up with a surgical procedure to reposition the gums back over the root surface. It is often performed by taking a portion of tissue from the roof of your mouth and carefully positioning it under the gums where the roots are exposed. This is often predictable and prevents future recession
Sometime gum recession and sensitivity occurs from having a genetic predisposition for it. Other times it can occur from things such as brushing our teeth too aggressively, clenching and grinding teeth, not brushing enough, using very abrasive toothpastes or toothbrushes, orthodontics, or habits like chewing on fingernails or pen caps.