Teeth Sensitivity: A Common Ailment

***UPDATED: January 14, 2015*** Suffering from tooth sensitivity is a very common complaint, with many experiencing pain while eating or drinking either hot or cold substances. Up until now, the only “treatment” for sensitive teeth has been the use of a specialized toothpaste, coupled with precautionary measures (using a soft bristled toothbrush, wearing a mouthguard at night, rinsing with water after consuming acidic beverages, etc) in order to minimize further damage to enamel. But according to a recent Science Daily article, scientists are in the process of developing a new biomaterial that has the potential to rebuild worn enamel and reduce sensitivity for an extended period of time. The team set out to create a product that would last longer than existing pastes, which typically do not stand up to everyday wear and tear, therefore only creating a superficial fix. The researchers used calcium and phosphorus, elements found in teeth, to create a new paste and then applied the mixture to dogs’ teeth. They found that their product plugged exposed tubes, just like existing pastes, except more deeply, repairing damaged enamel and providing long-lasting relief.

One of the most common complaints at the dental office is the sharp pain experienced when eating or drinking something hot or cold, otherwise known as sensitive teeth.  According to a recent WebMD News article, a new study estimates that as many as 1 in 8 adults is affected by this ailment with women, those with receding gums, young adults, and individuals who use at-home tooth whitening systems complaining the most.  Lead study author and research assistant professor at the University of Washington, Dr. Joana Cunha-Cruz, claims that it is common for individuals to have spells of discomfort, lasting a short amount of time before experiencing a break in the pain; however symptoms typically return.

Sensitive teeth are typically caused by wear and tear on enamel and/or cementum (the tissue between the tooth and gum), causing the exposure of small tubes that connect nerves inside the tooth, to triggers on the outside.  The study was conducted at 37 general dental practices around the Northwest region of the United States with 787 adults participating.  Dentists surveyed subjects while examining their teeth to insure that pain was not associated with another cause, such as a cavity, swollen gums, or chipped tooth.  Approximately 12% of patients polled were diagnosed with sensitive teeth; however researchers realize this number may be far from the truth, with the biggest bias being that only those who visit the dentist were polled.  Millions of Americans suffer from dental phobia and therefore do not make regular trips to the dentist, so the actual number of individuals dealing with teeth sensitivity could be much higher.

So, what can you do to help lessen the pain of sensitive teeth? According to Dr. Richard Trushkowsky, associate director of International Aesthetic Dentistry at New York University, it is recommended that you use a soft bristle toothbrush in a circular motion.  It is thought that aggressive, side-to-side motions with a firm brush can contribute to the problem.  He also suggests drinking water immediately following the consumption of an acidic food or beverage (fruit, juice, wine, coffee, etc) to help minimize acid erosion of enamel.  If you find yourself grinding your teeth at night, wearing a mouth guard could help prevent the wearing down of enamel often associated with this habit.  While there isn’t a standard treatment for sensitive teeth, consumers can find specialty toothpastes over-the-counter that have been shown to help the condition for some.  If pain is persistent however, it is recommended to see your dentist right away as it may be associated with a more serious issue.
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