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How to Pursue Sensitive Tooth Treatment

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Craving that ice cream cone can be frustrating if sensitive teeth stop you every time. Proper sensitive teeth treatment can help you dive back into your favorite flavor. Rather than suffering in silence, discover the main problem, which may be in the exposed parts of your teeth's roots.

The Root Cause

Enamel is a strong natural shield that covers the crown of the tooth, just above the gumline. The roots of your teeth, however, are usually protected by the gum tissue, and the slightest bit of receding gum can expose it. Receding gums can be caused by poor oral hygiene, a hard toothbrush and inappropriate brushing technique, teeth grinding and clenching, or even aging. Below the gum, the root has a very thin protective covering called cementum, but when the most sensitive part of the tooth underneath it – called dentin – is uncovered, your root may become vulnerable over time. When the root is exposed to temperature or fluid changes, the nerve in the pulp can be affected, which leads to sensitivity. So super hot or cold foods, and even substances that scratch your teeth, can lead to discomfort. In some people, sweet foods can create sensitivity too.

The Diagnosis

First, consult your dentist to find out what the cause of your gum recession is and whether treatment is required to correct it. Many factors can cause sensitive teeth or make an individual tooth sensitive. Tooth decay, broken fillings, root canal problems, poor oral hygiene, grinding and gum disease can lead to sensitive teeth. Your dentist can conduct an exam and a series of X-rays to determine the cause of your sensitive teeth.

The In-Office Treatment

Sensitive teeth treatment can start in the office, which may involve a cleaning, oral hygiene instruction and the application of a desensitizing agent to the exposed areas of your teeth to start the healing process. The desensitizing agent enters the sensitive area of the teeth and blocks the dentinal tubules that allow changes in temperature or air to stimulate the nerve fibers in the tooth's nerves (also known as the pulp). These agents include high concentrations of fluoride and sets when it comes in contact with your saliva.

The At-Home Treatments

You can also treat your sensitive teeth at home with the right toothpaste. Some sensitive toothpastes, either prescription or over-the-counter options, may have high enough concentrations of fluoride or other chemicals to reduce sensitivity over time. Some toothpastes contains Potassium Nitrate and Sodium Fluoride to strengthen enamel and relieve tooth sensitivity. Your dentist may also advise you to use a toothbrush designed for use with sensitive teeth. With improved hygiene, tooth sensitivity will usually reverse itself.

The Outcome

Even if you're the most oral-conscious person you know, it's impossible to look at a tooth and identify if it is sensitive. But a sensitive mouth can be successfully treated. A visit to your dentist is the first step, and effective products at home will continue long-term treatment. Although it may take up to eight weeks for tooth sensitivity to subside, you shouldn't be discouraged from seeking out effective products that are designed to treat sensitive teeth.

About the author: James Burke Fine, DMD, is Assistant Dean for Postdoctoral Programs, Professor of Clinical Dentistry, and Director of Post Graduate Periodontics at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine, New York. He has been a principal investigator or co-investigator in funded research projects and has authored or co-authored numerous articles, chapters, and abstracts in the literature regarding periodontal disease, including co-authoring the text Clinical Guide to Periodontics. In addition, Fine has presented at invited lectures and seminars. He maintains a practice limited to periodontics in Hoboken, NJ, and in the faculty practice at Columbia University.