When just thinking about eating ice cream puts your teeth on edge, you already know about tooth sensitivity. But what causes it? And can you prevent it?
The most common reason for sensitivity is a breakdown of the tooth’s normal protective mechanisms. Enamel, the hardest structure in the human body, normally protects the softer, sensitive tissue within a tooth. Dentine is the base material of the core, including the crown and roots of the tooth. Enamel protects the dentine around the crown – the visible portion of the tooth – and to the gum line. The gums and cementum cover and line the root of the tooth. When healthy enamel reaches just beneath the level of healthy gum tissue, the tooth is protected from cold air and cold foods.
How does sensitivity develop?
Gum recession is part of the normal ageing process. This means there is natural shrinkage of the gingiva which leaves the root lining – cementum – exposed. However, brushing incorrectly with a medium or firm-bristled toothbrush damages gum tissue and can lead to early gum recession. Cementum is not able to withstand brushing and the normal plaque activity within the mouth. It soon wears to expose the dentine of the upper part of the root.
In addition, if the tooth brush is always firmly scrubbed back and forth, the lower edge of the enamel can show wear. This is called abrasion, and can even lead to abrasion caries or defects in the enamel requiring fillings.
Dentine is a pain-sensitive tissue
Whether dentine is exposed above or below the gum line, its tubular structure means it is sensitive to temperature and acid activity.
Toothpastes are available that protect the tubules from contact with aggravating substances. For further assistance, your dentist can help with prescription strength pastes, fluoride treatments or by placing small ‘fillings’, called bonding.
It is also a great idea to learn about correct brushing technique, and the safest way to care for your teeth!