If you're experiencing tooth sensitivity, many over-the-counter toothpastes are effective. Using them, however, isn't a replacement for having a dental professional check your teeth and gums for signs of decay and gum inflammation. Sometimes, sensitivity points to a larger problem such as a tooth abscess, which is an infection requiring treatment with antibiotics, or other causes of pain that can worsen if not corrected. A dental assessment can help determine the causes of sensitivity and the best way to alleviate the discomfort.
According to the American Dental Association, sensitive teeth are very treatable. Readily available toothpastes such as Sensodyne contain an ingredient called potassium nitrate that alleviates symptoms by getting into the channels and blocking the nerve pain. Name brands Colgate, Tom's and Crest, among others, have similar products.
Sensitive formula toothpastes are most effective when used for several weeks so agents can build up in and on teeth to desensitize exposed areas of dentin and roots. Some oral rinses also deliver a desensitizing film to lessen pain. Using an ADA-approved toothpaste, a soft toothbrush and a treatment plan recommended by a dentist will increase the chances of finding products that work. If OTC toothpastes aren't effective, a dentist may try some office procedures such as high-concentrate fluoride applications or plastic-based root sealants. If these methods don't work, removing nerves and nerve endings through root canal procedures or devitalization by an endodontist may be necessary to relieve the pain [sources: ADA; Bartlett and Ide; Colgate].
Lifestyle changes can help as well. Sour and sweet foods, soda and acidic juices, and spicy sauces may need to be eliminated or avoided as much as possible, and simple measures such as using a straw to avoid having hot and cold beverages come in contact with teeth might bring a great deal of relief. It's hard not to be sensitive about sensitive teeth, but in most cases, we don't have to tough it out. When it comes to teeth, it's OK to say "Stop being so sensitive!" and to let yourself be desensitized.
- American Dental Association (ADA). "Sensitive Teeth." ADA.org. 2011. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.ada.org/3058.aspx
- Bartlett, D.W. & Ide, M. "Dealing with Sensitive Teeth." National Institutes of Health, NIH.gov. Jan. 1999. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10752461
- BBC. "Skelton - Teeth." BBC.co.uk. 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/factfiles/teeth/teeth.shtml
- Colgate-Palmolive Company. "What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?" Colgate.com. 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Popular-Topics/Sensitive-Teeth/article/What-Causes-Tooth-Sensitivity.cvsp
- Colgate-Palmolive Company. "What Is Tooth Sensitivity?" Colgate.com. June 26, 2006. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.colgate.com/app/CP/US/EN/OC/Information/Popular-Topics/Sensitive-Teeth/article/What-is-Tooth-Sensitvity.cvsp
- GlaxoSmithKline. "Sensodyne: Frequently Asked Questions." Sensodyne.com. 2011. (Dec. 2, 2011) http://us.sensodyne.com/FAQs.aspx
- Markowitz, K. & Pashley, D.H. "Discovering New Treatments for Sensitive Teeth: The Long Pathway from Biology to Therapy." National Institutes of Health, NIH.gov. April 2008. (Dec. 1, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18321266
- National Library of Medicine (NLM). "Theradent." DailyMed, NIH.gov. May 2010. Dec. 2, 2011. http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=35595