There are quick-fix solutions to dental hypersensitivity, but they won’t keep you smiling for long. It's best to seek a medical solution to the problem

Is a special toothpaste sufficient to resolve a painful problem — hypersensitivity of the teeth? You would be wise not to take such suggestions offered by some television commercials at face value. For, these solutions could be temporary; and you are at risk of losing the troublesome teeth eventually.

“Hypersensitivity of the teeth could be attributed to different reasons, including decay or cavities. A quick-fix treatment by way of over-the-counter toothpastes might seem an easy solution. No doubt, it can afford temporary and superficial relief. But if the deeper causes for sensitive teeth are not ascertained and treated, it can lead to the person having to undergo expensive root canal treatment, or worse, extraction,” cautions Dr. M. B. Aswath Narayanan, Professor and Head, Public Health Dentistry, Tamil Nadu Government Dental College and Hospital, Chennai.

The causes

Many of us are familiar with the sharp twinge of pain felt in the teeth on eating something hot, cold or sometimes, sweet. This occurs because of loss of enamel, the outer protective covering of the teeth. When this covering is eroded, the dentine tissue under it is exposed. Dr. V. Madhusudhan, senior dentist, explains, “The dentine has a number of hypersensitive tubules which if exposed to hot/cold or sweet stimuli make the teeth sensitive.”

But hypersensitivity is not a single-cause problem, which is why toothpastes obtained OTC cannot be a blanket cure. “There are several reasons for enamel loss,” informs Dr Aswath Narayanan. Enamel loss that creates hypersensitivity could be because of attrition — some people have a habit of grinding their teeth while sleeping, which corrodes the enamel. The habit might be because of stress. The enamel loss might also be because of aberration caused by improper brushing techniques. Then again, it might be because of erosion of the enamel as a consequence of drinking acidulated and aerated soft drinks. “Remember, this includes not just colas, but even the mango and orange fizz that many imagine to be safe,” says Dr Narayanan. Again, too much of a good thing can be bad. Overexposure of the teeth to lemon juice can wear away the enamel, while food habits which encourage tooth decay by microbes play a role too. “Sometimes, gastro-oesophageal reflux or acid reflux can cause stomach acids to reach the teeth and cause enamel loss,” adds senior dentist Dr. Lakshmi Murali.

Enamel loss and hypersensitivity might be because of tooth decay or cavities. “If a person has hypersensitivity because of cavities and simply resorts to a de-sensitising toothpaste, it provides superficial relief; meanwhile the decay only gets deeper, and when it reaches the pulp of the teeth, the person will be forced to go in for expensive and intricate root canal treatment. At worst, he might have to extract the affected teeth,” explains Dr. Aswath Narayanan.

Different solutions

If wearing away of the enamel is because of attrition, a tooth guard will be a solution. If abrasion is the reason, then the individual’s brushing technique has to be corrected. “Sometimes, gum infection can expose the roots of the teeth, which is an extremely sensitive tissue. Usually, this is temporary hypersensitivity, which subsides when the infection is arrested,” adds Dr. Narayanan. And sometimes, food particles may get trapped between the teeth and cause sensitivity. This will go away after proper brushing or dental cleaning.

So, if you feel a sharp pain in the teeth when you eat or drink something that’s hot, cold or sweet, or notice food particles getting caught in the teeth (an early indicator for hypersensitivity), have a dental examination to identify the reason, so that appropriate treatment can be taken. This may involve either simple remedies such as a medicated toothpaste and rinse, laser treatment, filling and restoration if the hypersensitivity is due to a cavity. Simply reaching for an over-the-counter toothpaste can turn out to be a costly and painful mistake.

Some causes for sensitive teeth

* Enamel attrition because of grinding of the teeth at night

* Abrasion of enamel because of improper brushing action

* Erosion of enamel by acidulated and aerated soft drinks

* Tooth decay

* Gum infection

* Acid reflux that causes stomach acids to reach the teeth

* Food particles trapped between the teeth

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012