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Tooth Sensitivity

What sensitivity feels like

Dental sensitivity is when a healthy tooth nerve gets triggered.  It feels like a short sharp zing type of pain usually in response to chewing or cold, but sometimes flossing, brushing, or heat.  A key feature of sensitivity is it goes away completely within a couple of seconds and does not have a lingering aching or throbbing type of pain.  Sensitivity is not associated with swelling, bleeding upon brushing or flossing, pain that requires medication, or a bad taste or smell.

The Anatomy of sensitivity

The outermost layer of a tooth is the hard rock like enamel.  The hard layer beneath is called dentin.  Within the center of the dentin, there is a soft pulp chamber where the nerve is found.  Ideally, the enamel and dentin insulate the nerve so it doesn’t get triggered excessively.  Somtimes, sensitivity may be just a false alarm, if you will – although quite uncomfortable in some cases. It is the nerve being triggered and sending a pain signal in response to normal stimuli like a cold drink of water.

Cross section

Who gets sensitivity?

Women between the ages of 25 and 40 are the most likely to experience sensitivity, but it can happen to men and women of all ages.  Teeth can become more sensitive in response to nighttime clenching and grinding during a stressful week.  Gum recession which exposes the more sensitive tooth root also increases sensitivity.  Having had dental work done in recent weeks can be another trigger.

What can be done about it?

For this one, time is on our side.  The nerves in sensitive teeth very, very slowly lay down a protective barrier of “tertiary dentin” to reduce sensitivity with time.  So if it’s a small enough of an annoyance that is slowly getting better over time, the answer may simply be patience. The most common treatment is simply to get a tube of sensitivity toothpaste such as Colgate Sensitive or Sensodyne.  Another treatment option is a fluoride varnish which can quickly be applied at any dental visit.

Tooth sensitivity may be tough to decipher from an actual tooth problem. If you are wondering where your discomfort is arising from, please schedule an appointment immediately for one of our excellent doctors to assist you. It is always best to catch a tooth issue early on, rather than later. And, a little peace of mind goes a long way.

John Draper
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