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Goodbye to Sensitive Teeth: How to Treat Dentin Hypersensitivity

Have you ever experienced sharp pain when consuming hot or cold food?

If so, you may be familiar with the discomfort of cervical dentin hypersensitivity, commonly known as sensitive teeth. This condition affects many people and can greatly impact their quality of life. In fact, it is commonly encountered in dental practice, including in the United States.

In this article, we will explore this condition, its prevalence, and, most importantly, how to treat dentin hypersensitivity.

What Is Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Dentin hypersensitivity occurs when the protective layer of enamel on our teeth wears down or when the gums recede, exposing the underlying layer called dentin. Dentin has tiny tubules connected to the nerves in our teeth. When these tubules (dentine surfaces) are exposed, external stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods can cause the fluid within the tubules to move, triggering pain signals. Periodontal scaling and root planing can also trigger this condition.

According to the hydrodynamic theory, the fluid is moved by pressure waves which cause nerve fibers in the dentin to respond. This triggers a pain response, leading to a sharp and sudden burst of pain.

Signs and symptoms of this condition include:

  • Pain or discomfort when consuming cold, hot, sweet, or acidic foods or beverages
  • Pain when brushing teeth with a toothbrush
  • Sensitivity to sweets or air currents
  • Sharp, severe pains on exposed dentin surfaces
  • Discomfort during dental treatments and procedures such as scaling, polishing, and fillings

The severity of dentine hypersensitivity can increase due to periodontal disease, improper or aggressive brushing, acidic foods and beverages, teeth grinding, or trauma. Patients affected by dentin hypersensitivity may experience varying pain levels depending on their condition’s cause and severity.

Prevalence of Dentin Hypersensitivity

Dentine hypersensitivity is a common dental condition that affects people from all over the world of all ages. According to studies, approximately 1 in 3 Japanese adults experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. It can be more prevalent in individuals with certain risk factors such as gum disease, tooth grinding, aggressive brushing, or tooth erosion caused by acidic foods or beverages.

In addition, a study conducted in the United States shows that 1 in 8 participants from general practices had dentin hypersensitivity. These people belong to the younger age and the female sex. In another study,

Causes of Dentin Hypersensitivity

Several factors can contribute to the development of dentin hypersensitivity.

These include:

  • Loss of enamel. The primary cause of dentin hypersensitivity is enamel loss on the tooth crown and gum.
  • Exposed dentinal tubules. Dentin hypersensitivity occurs when the dentinal tubules become exposed, allowing stimuli to reach the nerve endings.
  • Gum recession. The underlying root surfaces become exposed when the gums recede, leading to dentin hypersensitivity.
  • Tooth wear. Abrasion, erosion, or attrition of the tooth structure can expose dentin and contribute to hypersensitivity.
  • Tooth decay. Cavities or dental caries that involve dentin can cause sensitivity.
  • Tooth whitening. Certain tooth whitening procedures or products may cause temporary tooth sensitivity.
  • Dental procedures. Some dental treatments like tooth cleaning, crown placement, or tooth restoration can lead to short-term hypersensitivity.
  • Grinding or clenching teeth (bruxism). Frequent grinding or clenching can wear down enamel and expose dentin, resulting in sensitivity.
  • Acidic diet. Regularly consuming acidic foods and drinks can contribute to tooth enamel erosion and dentin hypersensitivity.
  • Aggressive tooth brushing. Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear away enamel and cause sensitivity.
  • Periodontal surgeries. Surgical procedures like crown lengthening or pocket reduction can cause temporary tooth sensitivity.
  • Systemic diseases. Conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) could contribute to enamel erosion and dentin hypersensitivity.

In-Office Treatments of Dentin Hypersensitivity

If you’re suffering from dentin hypersensitivity, there are various consensus-based recommendations to treat this condition. During the diagnosis of dentin hypersensitivity, your dentist will assess the severity of your condition and recommend the most suitable treatment option.

Here are some commonly used in-office therapies for the management of dentin hypersensitivity:

1. Desensitizing Agents

Desensitizing toothpaste is the first line of defense against dental hypersensitivity. These kinds of toothpaste contain active ingredients such as potassium salts, including potassium nitrate and potassium citrate. These substances work by blocking the tiny tubules (called tubule occlusion) in the dentin, reducing the flow of fluid and, in turn, minimizing sensitivity.

This treatment option can also be paired with laser therapy, which helps seal the dentin tubules and reduce sensitivity.

2. Fluoride Gels and Solutions

The role of fluoride in treating dentine hypersensitivity has been studied extensively.

Fluoride is a well-known mineral that strengthens tooth enamel and helps reduce sensitivity. In-office fluoride treatments or fluoride gels and solutions can be beneficial in managing dentin hypersensitivity. These treatments help strengthen the enamel, making it more resistant to external stimuli.

3. Bonding Agents, Sealants, and Varnishes

Dental bonding agents or adhesives, sealants, and varnishes can be applied to sensitive areas of the teeth to provide a protective barrier. Dental adhesives block the dentinal fluid flow of bacteria-filled fluid through the tiny tubules in tooth enamel, reducing sensitivity and protecting against further damage. Sealants provide a protective coating on the tooth’s surface, while varnishes are applied directly to sensitive areas of exposed dentin for quick relief and protection.

These products can be applied in a single visit to the dentist, with results usually lasting for several months.

4. Potassium Chloride (Nitrate or Citrate)

Potassium salts have been widely used in dental care to alleviate dentin hypersensitivity. They work by depolarizing the nerve fibers in the teeth, reducing the transmission of pain signals. Potassium nitrate and potassium citrate are commonly found in desensitizing toothpaste and are proven effective in providing relief.

5. Calcium Carbonate or Calcium Sodium Phosphosilicate

Toothpaste containing calcium carbonate or calcium sodium phosphosilicate has shown promising results in managing dentinal hypersensitivity. These ingredients help occlude the dentinal tubules and provide a protective layer over the exposed dentin, decreasing sensitivity to external stimuli.

How Do You Fix Dentin Hypersensitivity at Home?

In addition to in-office treatments, there are steps you can take at home to help manage dentine hypersensitivity:

  • Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush and use a gentle brushing technique to avoid further enamel erosion and gum recession.
  • Avoid acidic foods and beverages that can contribute to enamel erosion.
  • Brush your teeth two times a day and floss once daily to maintain good oral hygiene.
  • Consider using a desensitizing toothpaste containing potassium salts or other active ingredients recommended by your dentist.
  • Limit consumption of highly acidic or sugary foods and drinks.

It’s important to note that while these home dentin hypersensitivity treatments can provide temporary relief, consulting with a dental professional is essential for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

Final Thoughts

Dentin hypersensitivity can significantly impact your daily life, making it difficult to enjoy certain foods and beverages. However, with proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments, you can find relief from the discomfort and say goodbye to sensitive teeth. By regularly visiting a qualified dental practitioner and following their guidance, you can effectively manage dentin hypersensitivity and maintain a healthy smile.