The Specialist

What can you do about sensitive teeth?

If you avoid hot or cold drinks, sweet or sour foods, or even a gush of cool air because they cause discomfort, it may be time to speak to your dentist about the possibility of sensitive teeth. To effectively treat these embarrassing episodes, it would be helpful to know the cause. Once the cause is determined, a solution is within reach.

In this column, I will address the effective management of sensitive teeth.

If you have sensitive teeth, it’s possible that some of your enamel has worn away. Sensitivity usually begins when this happens or when enamel is broken or invaded by bacteria. The pain comes from the nerve endings being exposed.

Here are some likely ca
uses of teeth hypersensitivity:

Brushing too hard and using a scrub-brush stroke: Vigorously brushing your teeth with a hard-bristled toothbrush can gradually wear down tooth enamel. Worn tooth enamel can expose the dentin layer of your teeth, which is the second layer that protects nerve endings. Drinking or eating something cold could irritate the nerves and cause sharp, intermittent pain in the mouth. Use only a soft-bristled brush and brush at a 45-degree angle to your gum line to keep enamel clean and strong. Brush with circular strokes with light pressure. It is important that you apply light pressure.

Acidic foods: Some examples of acidic foods include lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and kiwis. Common foods where this is possible is fresh conch salad. Consume acidic foods in moderation, especially if you develop sensitivity because it wears down tooth enamel and exposes nerve endings.

Gum disease:
When plaque builds up on the teeth along the gumline, or under the gums, the result is inflammation and infection. This damages gum tissue, causing gums to recede, pockets to develop and expose nerve endings on the root. Regular brushing, flossing and dental cleanings with comprehensive exams are important for removing plaque and avoiding gum disease.

Grinding your teeth while sleeping: If not corrected, teeth grinding can wear down tooth enamel and expose dentin causing sensitivity whenever you eat or drink something cold.

Cavities and worn or cracked dental fillings may expose nerve endings in a tooth: Cavities mean that bacteria have invaded the enamel and likely into the dentin. When exposed to coldness, you may feel pain or sensitivity in the affected tooth.

Treating tooth sensitivity involves the following:

Fluoride toothpastes, mouth rinses and gels: A dentist may recommend a form of fluoride treatment to strengthen your enamel. Often, a prescription-based fluoride toothpaste and rinse is suggested. Choose an alcohol-free mouth rinse, as they are less irritating to the teeth.

A night guard: Teeth grinding while sleeping is associated with face pain, headaches, earaches and a stiff jaw. You should speak with your dentist to see if you need a night guard. A night guard prevents the grinding and clenching of teeth.

Dental restorations: Should alleviate sensitive teeth. In cases of exposed nerve endings, your doctor may apply a special resin filling to cover sensitive, exposed dentin and stop your pain.

Gum graft: If you have gum disease and gum recession, a surgical gum graft can protect or cover exposed roots, thereby assisting in the management of tooth sensitivity.

Soft toothbrush: Using soft toothbrushes and brushing more gently makes a difference. Soft toothbrushes should be labeled as “soft”. A “hard” brush does not remove plaque more effectively than a soft-bristled brush. A hard brush damages the teeth more frequently.

Tooth sensitivity can be minor or can indicate a serious dental problem. Diagnosis must be confirmed by a dentist. If you have any sensitivity to coldness, heat or cool air, speak with your dentist. A dental examination can help your dentist determine the underlying cause, as well as the most appropriate treatment to reduce pain.

• Dr. Kendal V.O. Major is the founder and CEO of the Center for Specialized Dentistry, which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in New Providence and Grand Bahama. He is the first Bahamian specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He is also a certified fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, New Providence. He can be contacted at (242) 325-5165 or

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