News Search

Facts about sensitive teeth

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Have you ever wanted to enjoy a glass of cold ice-water but hesitated because you knew it would be uncomfortable or even painful for your teeth?

Do you simply avoid eating certain foods? It is possible that some of your teeth have surfaces with erosion or weakened enamel.

Enamel, the outer layer of the teeth, is the hardest substance in the human body. However, current dietary trends, certain medical conditions and excessive tooth wear all contribute to a constant, daily attack on the outermost protective layer of teeth. When the enamel breaks down, teeth become more sensitive.

For many years, dental clinicians have understood the harmful effects of acids on the teeth. Dental caries, or cavities, indeed are caused by acid destruction of tooth structure resulting in breaks in the surface until a small hole is created in the enamel.

Once the enamel is penetrated, the process is accelerated because the inner layer of the tooth is somewhat softer.

Also, once a defect is created in the tooth surface, it becomes harder to keep that area clean -- especially when it occurs below the gum line or in between teeth.

What causes a cavity to develop? Remember that we all have different forms of bacteria that live in our mouth.

When we eat foods with carbohydrates or sugars, the bacteria are given a food source. Bacteria use sugar for energy and when they metabolize it, they create acid as waste.

If there's enough of the acid, and it is allowed to hang around for more than 20 or so minutes, it starts to dissolve calcium out of the enamel.

Many things that we eat and drink are strongly acidic. This "extrinsic acid" combined with the acid that the bacteria are making is double-trouble.

They both weaken the enamel, and initially, cause it to appear chalky-white and rough. At this point, teeth may start to be "sensitive."

Eventually, a hole may form that reaches all the way through the enamel. At this point, your dentist may tell you that your tooth requires a restoration, or "filling."

Are there more cases of dental erosion and cavities today than we previously understood? There's some evidence that says, "yes."

One reason that erosion is more on the radar now is changes in culture and diet. Instead of milk and water "there are many modern sources of extrinsic acid in a seemingly limitless array of carbonated soft drinks, sports beverages," energy drinks and other dietary components.

It is also increasingly recognized that conditions such as bulimia and acid reflux disorders can cause erosion and breakdown of tooth structure.

Additionally, erosion is intertwined with tooth wear. Teeth that are worn excessively from hard brushing, chewing habits - like gnawing on pens or straws - or grinding are more at risk.

So, what can you do to protect your teeth and make them stronger? It is widely known that fluoride can make weakened enamel hard again by replacing lost calcium.

When the enamel is strong and healthy, it insulates the nerve within the tooth better and prevents sensitivity. Special toothpastes for sensitive teeth are also helpful. The Whiteman Dental Clinic recommends the following:

- Drink sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks or any other acidic beverages in moderation.
- Read labels. Regular pop is high in sugar. Diet or "sugar-free" pop is high in acid.
- Don't sip for extended periods of time - this prolongs the sugar and acid attack on the teeth.
- After an "acid attack," swish some water and rinse out your mouth.
- Drink water.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Floss your teeth before you brush at bedtime. This will help the fluoride reach and contact the enamel in between your teeth. Flossing also keeps your gum tissue healthy and resilient. Red, swollen gums that bleed easily help the bacteria hide below the gum line and in between your teeth.
- Give your teeth an extra bath or two of fluoride every day. Purchase and use a fluoride mouth rinse (not to be confused with your standard antiseptic mouthwashes.) These rinses work best when your teeth are clean because the fluoride needs to coat the enamel to do its job. Consider using this after you brush and right before you climb into bed.

(Reference - Academy of General Dentistry," Impact," April 2007)