Most of us know that moment of hesitation before biting into an ice cream sandwich or taking that first sip of hot coffee. Is this going to hurt my teeth? Pain from heat or cold on sensitive teeth is not something easy to ignore, and sometimes we go to great lengths to avoid it. Advertisements tout toothpaste for sensitive teeth, after all, a tube of toothpaste to ease pain seems to be an easy and affordable treatment. But do tooth sensitivity toothpaste actually work? To answer that question, it first helps to understand why teeth can become sensitive.
Tooth Sensitivity: Understanding the “Root” Cause
A tooth comes with a lot of natural protection, so any pain from sensitivity to heat and cold, or to pressure like when you bite down on something, most likely indicates that the tooth is damaged in some way. To treat pain from tooth sensitivity, you first must understand why it’s happening, and it usually has to do with the tooth being compromised in some way and affecting the root or nerves.
- Enamel and Cementum. The surface of your teeth is covered by enamel, the white part of the tooth. Enamel is a very hard substance and can stand up to everyday hazards from food, drinks, or chewing. Under the enamel is a layer of protection called cementum. Enamel and cementum can become damaged by cavities from bacteria that feed on food in your mouth or from pressure if you clench or grind your teeth. Failure to floss or floss properly may also cause gums to recede. That recessed part of the tooth is not protected by enamel and can be very sensitive.
- Dentin. Under the tooth’s enamel and cementum is a substance called dentin. Most of the tooth is made up of dentin, and the pulp containing blood vessels and nerves is located in the middle of the tooth, and that is surrounded by dentin. Unlike enamel, dentin is porous; when the holes become too big from decay or cavities, it can lead to the pulp in the center of the tooth. The nerve will send pain signals to your brain (so you will experience pain) when exposed to heat or cold. Damaged enamel allows the nerve to be exposed to heat and cold from the food or liquids in your mouth through tiny holes in dentin. That is what causes your sensitive teeth to hurt when heat or cold touch them.
What does sensitivity toothpaste do?
Sensitivity toothpastes serve two purposes. The first is to clean your teeth. The second is to calm any pain. It’s important to note that these toothpastes do not heal, they only make brushing bearable if you have pain. Common active ingredients in sensitivity toothpaste include:
- Potassium nitrate travels through the weak spots in enamel through the pores in the dentin and into the nerve of the tooth, where it interferes with the nerve’s transmission of pain signals. Pain is blocked right there at the source of the message.
- Strontium chloride. Instead of working to stop the pain affecting the nerve, strontium chloride patches up the pores in dentin (called tubules) so the heat and cold do not reach the nerve.
- Stannous fluoride forms a protective barrier over teeth to prevent triggers from taking hold and is found in many sensitivity toothpastes.
Toothpaste for tooth sensitivity is effective in preventing pain from heat and cold. However, there is no cure for tooth sensitivity. The best way to avoid the pain is to prevent it in the first place by eating right, brushing and flossing, and seeing your dentist regularly.
If you have pain from tooth sensitivity, tell your dentist. It can mean that there is a cavity or damage to the gums that requires treatment. Patients in the Las Vegas area trust the team at Dedicated Dental to care for their oral health. They treat patients from age 4 and up since 2006 at their office in Henderson, Nevada. Take this important step for your health. For an appointment, call (702) 566-5509 to speak with one of our friendly office staff today!