If your teeth are sensitive to very hot or cold foods, you may wonder if this is because of an undiagnosed cavity. While only your dentist can tell you whether or not your sensitivity is related to a cavity, it could actually be caused by a number of issues. Read on to learn more about dentin hypersensitivity, what causes it, and how to treat it.
What Is Dentin Sensitivity Exactly?
The dentin layer of your tooth lies underneath your enamel and protects the nerve (pulp) of the tooth. Dentin itself has many porous tubes with dentinal fluid that run from the enamel to the pulp. These tubes transmit sensations of mechanical pressure (e.g. chewing food) and/or pain. But if one of these tubes becomes exposed, you can actually experience thermal expansion or contraction of the dentinal fluid and feel hypersensitivity.
What Can Cause This Hypersensitivity?
While cavities can wear down enamel and cause the exposure of dentin tubes, there are other causes of hypersensitivity, such as:
- Using a toothbrush with hard bristles (or brushing too aggressively)
- Consuming too many beverages or foods that are acidic or sugary
- Grinding your teeth
- Whitening your teeth too often or using harsh products to bleach
If you have gingivitis or another inflammatory gum disorder, then your gums may have receded enough to expose detin tubes closer to the gum line. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and other similar conditions can also cause hypersensitivity since stomach acids can wear down enamel and expose dentin tubes.
How Can You Treat the Issue?
Your dentist can help you get to the bottom of the issue. He or she will take x-rays and use a dental explorer instrument to probe any teeth with sensitivities.
If your hypersensitivity is caused by poor brushing habits, then it may be an easy fix since you just need to use a new product or brush your teeth more softly. If your teeth are hypersensitive due to grinding, then your dentist can fit you with a mouthguard.
If your hypersensitivity is related to a gum disorder, then your dentist might recommend a deep cleaning or refer you to a periodontist.
If the hypersensitivity is caused by an illness or your dentist cannot identify a cause, he or she may recommend an occluding agent to cover the exposed dentin tubules. Some occluding agents are used during crown restorations or root canals to reduce hypersensitivity to physical or thermal stimuli, but they can also be used to effectively "plug" the tubes and protect the enamel similar to a dental sealant.
Reach out to your family dentist for more information.