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Why are my teeth sensitive?

We get this question a lot in my practice, so let's get to it.

If you have sensitivity to temperature change, for example hot and cold liquids, in one tooth, you may have a nerve that is becoming or is already non-vital. What does this mean? When a tooth gets damaged from trauma from decay, force or other factors, the nerve in the tooth will actually die. We call this "non-vital." When the nerve becomes non-vital, it can eventually get infected and abscessed. This would necessitate the need for a root canal treatment to preserve the tooth. We will discuss root canals in another blog.

If you have many teeth that are sensitive to temperature change, especially cold, something else may be happening. Usually in this case, you have gingival recession. Gingival recession is when the gums around the tooth actually recede, exposing the root surface of the teeth. The roots of the teeth are not as hard as enamel, and are more sensitive to temperature changes and certain foods (i.e. sweets).
There are a few treatments for this depending on the severity of your sensitivity. Your dentist can cover the exposed root surfaces with bonding. Or he can apply a material that can decrease the sensitivity for up to a month. Sensodyne toothpaste can be helpful. So can fluoride treatments. Fluoride treatments can be done at your dental office, or can be prescribed to use at home.

If a particular tooth is sensitive to biting or chewing, there could be a few causes.
The nerve may be damaged causing the tooth to become non-vital as discussed above, in which case a root canal would be needed. Or there could be a microscopic fracture in the enamel of the tooth. This is called "cracked tooth syndrome." If this is the case, a restoration (i.e. crown) may be necessary to alleviate the discomfort. Or it may be due to a problematic bite, or occlusion. If your teeth are not meeting properly when in contact, then certain teeth may be getting damaged and be causing sensitivity or pain. Your dentist can sometimes adjust your occlusion by selectively grinding certain teeth, improving your occlusion. More aggressive care may be necessary which could include orthodontics (moving teeth) or crowns to correct the occlusion.

If you have teeth sensitivity, don't wait and hope it goes away. Sensitivity is usually your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Go see your dentist before a small issue becomes a major one. As with many issues pertaining with your health, prevention is the best medicine.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on March 11, 2010 3:49 PM.

The previous post in this blog was It's not the toothpaste!.

The next post in this blog is What's the deal with Dental Lasers?.

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