Exposed dentin can be problematic for almost anyone. Dentin is the layer of the tooth directly beneath the enamel, which is the outer coating of the crown of the tooth. Enamel is the hardest substance in the body and usually helps insulate the teeth from sensitivity. Dentin, however, is considerably softer and is made up of thousands of microscopic tubules that contain nerve endings that connect directly to the inner pulp of the tooth. The dental pulp contains only one type of nerve fiber: one that interprets everything as pain! This means that cold, heat, pressure or almost anything can cause sensitivity to exposed dentin.
Causes of Exposed Dentin
There can be many reasons why dentin becomes exposed, but some of the most common are:
- Grinding. Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, can be caused by stress, malocclusion (a misaligned bite) or certain diseases that affect the muscles. Over time, grinding can lead to the thinning of the protective layer of enamel on the biting surfaces of the teeth. Eventually this will cause the enamel to wear through, leaving the dentin exposed.
- Overzealous brushing. Using a hard toothbrush and scrubbing repeatedly, especially with very abrasive toothpastes , can also abrade the enamel and expose dentin. This is most troublesome along the gumline where the enamel is thinnest.
- Gum recession. If you don’t brush and floss frequently and thoroughly, plaque can accumulate along the gingival margin, which is the edge of the gums where they meet your teeth. When this happens, the gums may recede away from the teeth, resulting in exposed dentin.
Treating Exposed Dentin
Once dentin is exposed, the symptoms of sensitivity can be quite annoying, ranging from mild sensations to brief but intense shooting pains. Your dentist may recommend that you switch to a toothpaste specially formulated for sensitive teeth. Additionally, your dentist may offer in-office procedures or a variety of products not found at the drug store. For example, your dentist may apply a fluoridated varnish at your appointment to address your hypersensitivity.
The best way to avoid sensitivity is to refrain from practices that can lead to enamel erosion or gum recession. Luckily, there are several steps that you can take to minimize dentin exposure and keep your enamel intact and healthy. If you or a partner are aware of nighttime teeth grinding, your dentist can make an acrylic mouth guard that will reduce any clenching and allow you to grind while protecting your teeth from wear.
If vigorous brushing is the problem, make sure you are using a soft-bristled brush. And don’t forget to floss! Removing bacteria from in between the teeth might also help prevent cavities and gum inflammation, which in turn reduces your risk of gum recession and sensitivity.
Making simple lifestyle changes can also help you maintain optimal oral hygiene. Limit your intake of sugary foods and drinks, which can promote the buildup of decay-causing oral bacteria. Also make sure to visit your dentist at least twice a year for checkups. They will monitor the health of your teeth and gums and help you determine the best way to treat any sensitivity issues.