What Is Dentine Hypersensitivity?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2018
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Dentine hypersensitivity is an unpleasant sensation caused by exposed nerve roots in the teeth. Roots are normally protected inside the tooth, which insulates them from environmental stimuli like heat and cold. When they are exposed due to dental disease, poor habits, or injuries, patients can experience irritation to extreme pain that can be difficult to treat. A dentist can evaluate a patient with suspected dentine hypersensitivity to learn more about the cause and discuss possible treatment options.

The enamel of the teeth can start eroding for a number of reasons. Some patients brush their teeth too aggressively or with poorly designed products, which can cause tooth wear over time. Others may have issues like tooth grinding, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or jaw clenching that break down the dental enamel. Eating habits can play a role as well, as can chewing tobacco. These damage the dental enamel quickly enough that it does not have a chance to remineralize, exposing the roots normally buried inside.

Researchers theorize that dentine hypersensitivity is a result of movement inside tiny structures called dentinal tubules. This stimulates the underlying nerves and can trigger a sensation out of proportion to what is actually occurring inside the mouth. Patients may notice that the condition starts with some irritation or tingling in association with hot, sweet, or very cold foods. Over time, this can become more intense; dentine hypersensitivity can cause a feeling of pressure or sharp, shooting pain.


In an evaluation, a dentist can take x-rays to examine the structure of the teeth and jaw as well as perform a visual exam. Conservative treatments for dentine hypersensitivity can include toothpastes and medications designed to promote remineralization of the teeth to build up the protective dentin. Artificial enamels can be applied in dental surgery. The patient’s teeth may also need cleaning, scaling, and other routine maintenance to promote oral health.

This condition can become persistent and frustrating for patients and their dentists. Many cases of dentine hypersensitivity do not respond well to treatment and can cause continued pain and irritation for patients. Oral pain can contribute to generalized irritation and other psychological side effects which may make it hard to work, perform tasks, and interact with family members. Some patients may try multiple dentists to see if one can resolve the condition and may become increasingly agitated as the condition fails to clear up. Advising patients on the various treatment options available and their effectiveness can help them make informed choices.



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