It is not uncommon to have one or more teeth that are particularly sensitive to heat, cold, or pressure. If you have such a tooth, you probably want to know what caused it and what you can do about it. Here are some frequently asked questions, and their answers.
What causes teeth to become sensitive?
The most common cause of sensitivity is exposure of the tooth's dentin, a layer of the tooth's structure that is just below the outer protective layer (the enamel).
The dentin is sensitive but the enamel layer is not. Why?
The enamel is composed of minerals that are hard and protective. It is not living tissue and has no nerve supply. The dentin layer underneath is bone-like living tissue that does contain nerve fibers. It is protected by enamel above the gum line and by gum tissue in the area of the tooth's root, below the gum line. If the tooth's protective covering is reduced, the nerve fibers in that section of the dentin are exposed to changes in temperature and pressure, which they conduct to the inner pulp layer (nerve) of the tooth. The sensations that reach the tooth's interior pulp layer cause pain.
What causes exposure of the dentin layer in teeth?
Often the dentin is exposed by receding gums, causing areas of the tooth that are normally below the gum surface to be uncovered.
What makes gums recede?
One cause of receding gums is excessive, rough brushing techniques. This is particularly common in individuals who have a family history of thin gum tissues. Removing the film of bacteria called plaque requires only gentle action with a soft brush. This is one reason that we stress the value of learning proper and effective brushing techniques. Gum recession becomes worse after the uncovered dentin of the tooth's root is exposed to erosion from sweet and acidic foods and beverages, such as fruit juices.
Doesn't tooth sensitivity indicate decay?
Decay can also cause tooth sensitivity. As decay destroys a tooth's structure, it eventually invades the inner pulp of the tooth, causing greater and greater pain.
How can you prevent or reduce tooth sensitivity?
As we mentioned above, learn proper brushing techniques; we would be happy to demonstrate them. Use a toothpaste that contains fluoride, which increases the strength of the tooth's protective coating. In more serious cases, we can apply a fluoride varnish or a filling material as a barrier to cover sensitive areas. If you experience long-term tooth sensitivity, make an appointment for an assessment and diagnosis so that we can determine the cause and proper treatment.
According to NFL football legend Jerry Rice, “Football can be brutalÃ¢Â€Â”injuries, including those to the face and mouth, are a common risk for any player.” And if anyone should know, it would be Jerry.
During an interview with Dear Doctor magazine, the retired NFL pro discussed his good fortune to have had just a few minor dental injuries during his pro playing days. He credits this success to the trainers and protective equipment professional football teams have to keep the players off the injured list. However, this was not the case during his earlier years in football. “There wasn't a lot of focus on protecting your teeth in high school,” he said. “You had to buy your own mouthguard.” He continued, “Things changed, though, when I went to college.”
Unfortunately, not much has changed since Jerry's high school days for young athletes. This is why we feel it is so important that parents and caregivers understand the risks and take proactive steps towards protecting the teeth, gums, bone and soft tissues of their children with a mouthguard. This is especially true for anyone — adults included — participating in high-contact sports such as basketball, baseball, hockey (field and ice), football, soccer, wrestling, martial arts, boxing and activities such as skateboarding, in-line skating and skydiving.
But all mouthguards are not the same. The best mouthguard, based upon evidence-based research, is one that is custom-designed and made by a dental professional, with the athlete's individual needs taken into account.
We make our custom mouthguards from precise and exact molds of your teeth, and we use resilient and tear-resistant materials. Once completed, it should be comfortable yet fit snugly so that you are able to talk and breathe easily with it in place. It should also be odorless, tasteless, not bulky and have excellent retention, fit and sufficient thickness in critical areas.
And while mouthguards may seem indestructible, they do require proper care. You should clean it before and after each use with a toothbrush and toothpaste, transport and store the mouthguard in a sturdy container that has vents, make sure not to leave it in the sun or in hot water and rinse it with cold, soapy water or mouthwash after each use. And last but not least, you should periodically check it for wear and tear so that you will know when replacement is needed.
To learn more about mouthguards, continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Athletic Mouthguards.” Or you can contact us today to schedule an appointment so that we can conduct a thorough examination and make molds of your teeth for your custom mouthguard. And if you want to read the entire feature article on Jerry Rice continue reading “Jerry Rice — An Unbelievable Rise To NFL Stardom.”