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Causes of Tooth Sensitivity and Pain

Danny O'Keefe D.D.S. Aug 3, 2014

Brown-eyed brunette, smilingMany people say that tooth pain is the worst type of pain, probably because it can be constant. At our Jackson dental practice, we hear patients use the phrase tooth pain when referring to tooth sensitivity. Whatever the cause of a toothache, a trip to the dentist can resolve the issue and get you on the path to good oral health. If cavities or fractures are the problem, dental crowns, which cap a tooth to help it withstand the daily forces of biting and chewing, may be required to treat the tooth. Thin tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots are often the cause of tooth sensitivity, and these issues are also treatable. Don’t suffer from a toothache. Learn how to avoid them, and seek treatment immediately when you experience the beginnings of tooth pain.

Treating Cavities, Fractures, and Infection

The teeth have an outer layer of enamel, which covers a layer of sensitive dentin. The dentin’s innermost part is called tooth pulp, which is found in the tooth root’s canal. A cavity begins as demineralization of tooth enamel and, with time, can grow to damage dentin and pulp. Fractures, or cracks, can also occur on the enamel or down into the dentin of a tooth. When a cavity or fracture affects a tooth’s canal, the pulp within the tooth becomes infected, often resulting in pain. A cavity that just affects the dentin layer may also cause pain in some patients.

Fillings can treat minor to moderate amounts of tooth damage resulting from cavities and fractures. To address a fracture or significant amount of decay, a crown, inlay, or onlay is required. If a tooth’s pulp is infected, the tooth will need extraction or root canal therapy. These treatments effectively relieve related toothaches and sensitivity.

  • Cavities: Cavities can be treated with fillings, crowns, inlays, onlays
  • Fractures (cracks): Fractures can be treated with dental bonding, crowns, inlays, onlays
  • Internal infection: Deep infections can be treated with root canal therapy and a crown, or extraction and replacement

Thin Tooth Enamel

Because tooth enamel coats the dentin of a tooth, it creates an insulating barrier against pressure and extreme temperatures. Thin enamel offers less insulation, so teeth are more sensitive.

Some people are born with thinner than average tooth enamel, and others develop thin enamel due to acid erosion. Tooth enamel can erode in an acidic oral environment. Drinking acidic beverages (colas, citrus drinks, etc.), eating acidic foods (tomatoes, citrus fruits, etc.), experiencing acid reflux, or consuming sugars and starches can make saliva acidic.

Exposed Teeth Roots

While smoking, gum disease, and harsh tooth brushing contribute to gum recession, our gums can recede naturally with age. Teeth roots are not coated with protective enamel, so when gum tissue recedes, dentin is exposed. As a result, people with receding gums often suffer from tooth sensitivity. In some cases, tooth sensitivity is so severe that wind causes pain.

Deterring Tooth Sensitivity

If your dental pain is not caused by tooth decay or fractures, you may have thin enamel or receding gum tissue. Over-the-counter desensitizing toothpaste, like Sensodyne, can block nerves and relieve the pain.

For a long-term solution, make an appointment with Dr. O’Keefe. He will perform a thorough oral health evaluation, and then recommend appropriate treatment. In some cases, adding a layer of composite resin to a tooth will provide a thicker barrier and reduce tooth sensitivity. To treat gum recession, bonding, crowns, or gum grafting may be advised.

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