A tooth is made up of many different structures of which the main ones are enamel and dentine. Enamel is one of the strongest substances in the human body and covers the dentine which is naturally sensitive to extremes of temperatures. When your enamel is damaged or worn it allows either hot, cold or sweet substances to irritate the dentine, therefore causing tooth sensitivity (also known as dentine hyper-sensitivity).

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Tooth enamel is made up of tiny prisms and in most people these are closed which means hot and cold substances cannot penetrate through to the dentine, however in some individuals these are open so any temperature extremes will instantly cause dentine hyper-sensitivity.

Enamel erosion is the other cause of sensitivity and the two main reasons for this are abfraction and abrasion.

What is the cause of dental abfractions?

Dental abfractions happen when the top part of your tooth flexes and weakens, leading the dentine to be exposed. This is caused by too much pressure exerted to one’s tooth surface for example it can be caused by grinding the teeth.

What causes abrasions in dentistry?

Dental abrasion is most commonly caused by over brushing or brushing too hard, resulting in the tooth enamel wearing away and exposing tooth dentine.

What can be done to tackle tooth sensitivity?

If sensitivity is due to abfraction your dentist may suggest a night guard to prevent further damage and possibly fill in the gaps by your gum margin where dentine has been exposed.

If abrasion is the main factor causing sensitivity then changing your brushing habits is crucial to prevent further wear by either modifying your technique with a manual toothbrush or using an electric toothbrush with a pressure sensor.

Areas that have been worn down due to over brushing are known as ‘wear facets’. If you have wear facets these can be filled by your dentist to prevent erosion and protect the tooth’s surface.

Finally, there are various toothpastes on the market today which help to relieve the symptoms of sensitivity. It is always a good idea to check with your dentist which one they would recommend for you.