Teeth that are sensitive to cold or hot things are a very common complaint by patients. The majority of the time it is because some of the root surface of one or more teeth is no longer covered by gum tissue.
Now a little bit about your teeth. You have enamel covering the crown (top part) of your tooth. The enamel is very dense, and not sensitive to things. The inside part of your tooth, just under the enamel, is the dentin. The dentin is microscopically porous, and is able to carry signals directly to the pulp and nerve of your tooth.
Unfortunately for patients and dentists, the nerve of your tooth only sends one message to your brain when it is stimulated, and that’s pain. So when the dentin is exposed to hot, cold, or touch, it is usually uncomfortable because it causes the nerve to fire.
The roots of our teeth are not covered with enamel; so when the root is no longer covered with gum tissue, the dentin is exposed. And the exposed dentin reacts no different than if I started working on your tooth with no anesthetic. When we are in the enamel, it doesn’t hurt; but if we touch the dentin = ouch!
How to help stop the sensitivity
- Brush with a toothpaste designed to help with sensitivity. It takes most people 2-3 weeks brushing twice a day with this to see some relief. Usually about 2/3 of people find help this way.
- If regularly using the desensitizing toothpaste doesn’t help, the next step is a prescription strength desensitizing toothpaste that has 5 times the fluoride as regular toothpaste. The vast majority of patients will find relief of sensitivity with this toothpaste (Prevident 5000) and I would be happy to write you a prescription for it.
- If all else fails, the next step is to place a dental filling over the exposed area to cover up the dentin. I usually do not have to resort to this.
If you experience this sensitivity AND sensitivity to sweets like chocolate or frosting, then I should probably take a look because this may indicate a cavity or leaky filling.