Dentin Hypersensitivity:
Causes and How to Manage It

 

Author: Ryder Waldron DDS

Dental professionals know that dentin hypersensitivity is relatively common. As noted in Clinical Oral Investigations, while the number of patients experiencing dentin hypersensitivity varies across studies and patient groups, most reviews conclude it occurs in up to 57 percent of patients, and in up to 84.5 percent of patients after periodontal treatment.

Figure 1

There are several foods and activities that trigger dentin hypersensitivity, but, luckily, many ways dental professionals can help ease the discomfort.

What Triggers Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Patients may think that dentin hypersensitivity is just a way of life, since it has so many triggers. How can someone possibly avoid them all? Some of the most common are:

  • Acidic soft drinks and sports drinks
  • Cold drinks and foods
  • Ice cream
  • Hot tea or coffee
  • Candy
  • Citrus fruits

Aside from eating and drinking, many activities, habits and even everyday occurrences can result in dentin hypersensitivity including:

  • Crunching on ice cubes
  • Bruxism
  • Aggressive toothbrushing
  • Breathing in cold air
  • Recent dental work, including scaling and root planing
  • Recent  teeth whitening

 

Questions to Ask Your Patients

Before determining how to manage the problem, it is important to first determine if the pain is caused by dentin hypersensitivity or by something else. A clinical and radiographic exam can help identify if dental caries are present. Other potential diagnoses that need to be considered and excluded include cracked or chipped teeth, defective restorations and pulpitis.

Ask patients pointed questions to determine what causes their teeth to hurt. Is the pain spontaneous? Does it occur after certain foods, drinks or activities? How long does the pain last? Does anything help their teeth feel better?

If the patient’s teeth hurt in connection with some of the previously mentioned triggers, if it is a sharp transitory pain, if there is gingival recession present, if there are no discernable defects in restorations or other potential causes identified during the examination, and if eliminating a potential trigger prevents the pain, then dentin hypersensitivity is a likely cause.

 

Dentin Hypersensitivity Management Options

When treating patients with dentin hypersensitivity, using a desensitizing toothpaste is an easy and conservative option for patients.  Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief  toothpaste offers clinically proven instant and long-lasting relief from hypersensitivity, together with the recommended fluoride level for caries prevention. You may want to start with this toothpaste, because it is highly effective and easy for patients to use at home. Other options include lasers, resin-based materials and gingival grafts, which are more involved. Typically, a desensitizing toothpaste for home use is a first-line and successful option.

It’s important to encourage patients to keep up with regular appointments, limit sensitivity-causing foods and activities and use a soft-bristled toothbrush. It is also necessary to check the patient’s brushing technique, as dentin hypersensitivity can also be caused by brushing the teeth and gums with too much force.

Dentin hypersensitivity affects the enjoyment of daily activities and quality of life, and many patients aren’t aware that it is a manageable condition. As dental professionals, we can be at the forefront of patient education and management of dentin hypersensitivity, and make positive changes to the lives of our patients. It may sound like a small step, but resolving dentin hypersensitivity is a rewarding win for dentists, staff and patients, alike.