Are your teeth trying to tell you something?

Quite often when I ask a patient if they have any teeth bothering them, they will tell me that they have a bit of cold sensitivity. When your teeth and the mouth are healthy, there should not be any pain or sensitivity. There are so many advertisements and attention given to tooth sensitivity that I thought it would be beneficial for you to learn the truth about tooth sensitivity. So grit your teeth and get ready to chew on the sensitivity issue.

Why do advertisers play to our sensitivities? Because they know that we will buy any product that will relieve our pain. If there is relief for pain, then people will want it. And in their advertising, do they tell you why you are having pain? No, not really. The answer is complex and sometimes complicated. In fact it is so complicated, that I feel I am more of a detective than a dentist. Because the symptoms of the sensitivity are easy to treat, the products sell well. But the cause of the symptoms often goes untreated. Why, because if you can buy something that gets rid of the symptoms, why deal with the cause? That might be more involved. But wouldn’t it feel great to get rid of the problem for good?  It’s sometimes difficult to find to the cause of the pain and the person you should seek is the dentist.  But even some dentists placate the patient with symptom relief and don’t chase after the cause. So, what is the cause of tooth sensitivity? Lets get to the root of the problem.

First you have to understand how teeth have sensitivity. There are three layers to a tooth. The enamel, dentin, and pulp (nerve). The enamel is the hard white outside and the pulp is the soft mushy stuff deep inside. When you put cold things on your teeth, the change in temperature from your warm mouth to the cold ice creates a change in the inside of the tooth which starts at the surface enamel and penetrates to the pulp. Now, around the outside of your tooth  (in the root below the gums) are lots of little ligaments that connect your tooth to the jawbone. These ligaments can get irritated and cause pain, much like pain in your knee or shoulder or elsewhere in your body when they get irritated. So, there are really two paths your sensitivity may take.

Now, say you have a heavy hand and like to brush really hard with your tooth brush. By the way, hard brushing won’t get your teeth any cleaner than softer brushing. If you brush in a back and forth motion (not up and down) hard enough for a long time, you will wear away the enamel part of your tooth and sometimes the gums. When this happens you expose the softer layer under the enamel, the dentin. The dentin is like a superhighway to the pulp. And when cold touches that, YEOW- pain follows. So, the big toothpaste companies figured out how to make a toothpaste that would plug the superhighways up like I-93 in Boston at 5 o’clock on a Friday. That’s what you buy to get rid of the sensitivity. Now, you don’t have to be a dentist to start thinking, “If I could put back that part of enamel that I’ve been giving the brush-off to, then I wouldn’t have to keep using this awful tasting toothpaste.” That’s right, the dentist  could put some filling in that area that was brushed away and get rid of the sensitivity for good. Wow, how about that? They won’t tell you that on T.V. because you won’t need their product.

The other path of sensitivity involves something different. The ligaments. Well, if you have the habit of clenching or grinding your teeth, you find yourself avoiding certain areas of your mouth because of sensitivity. Many people don’t know, and often deny the fact that they clench and grind. I can tell just by looking at your teeth if you are a clencher/grinder. That’s the detective work I do.  What happens is that as you clench or grind your teeth for several hours at night and sometimes during the day, you exert a LOT of force into your jaw. Those ligaments that connect your teeth to the jaw don’t like that. They get a little upset and become inflamed. This causes the teeth to hit harder when you chew. Which, in turn gets the pulp (the nerve inside) irritated and makes you sensitive to temperature changes. For this, you could spend tons of money on toothpastes and mouth rinses to eliminate the sensitivity. None of which will work very well. So you will get some relief, but you haven’t really addressed the cause. So, if you want to find the cause, what do you do? That’s right, find the tooth detective. Get the CSI mouth team. (CSI- cause of sensitivity issue). Well, the dental detectives would look inside, gather evidence, ask questions, and finally come up with cause, and offer treatment to correct it. That’s what we do. What is it that makes us grind our teeth? We don’t know for sure. If we did, the big companies would have made a pill for it. But we know how to eliminate or at least greatly relieve it. To get rid of this kind of pain could be as simple as making a mouthguard to wear at night or as complicated as rebuilding the whole mouth.

The bottom line of this story is that the longer you wait to address the cause of your pain, the more costly and involved the solution will be. By buying all those well advertised products, you are buying time in relieving pain, but you’ll be damaging your oral health and not treating the cause. I hope you find the right people to help your mouth get back to health and stop the sensitivity.

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