What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Is the taste of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee sometimes a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? If so, you may have sensitive teeth. Possible causes include:

  • Tooth decay (cavities)
  • Fractured teeth
  • Worn fillings
  • Gum disease
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Exposed tooth root
In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth--the part above the gum line. Under the gum line a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin. 
Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum these tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede. The result can be hypersensitivity.

Sensitive teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest one of a variety of treatments:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste. This contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.
  • Fluoride gel. An in-office technique which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations.
  • A crown, inlay or bonding. These may be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity.
  • Surgical gum graft. If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
  • Root canal. If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.
Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing sensitive-tooth pain. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine or concerns about tooth sensitivity.


Rampant Caries: What Is It?

dental cariesRampant caries can stem from a variety of factors, such as poor diet, mouth pH, root recession and weakened enamel. Anyone of any age is susceptible to cavities, but luckily there are treatments that can restore your oral health.

What is Dental Caries?

Dental caries is classified one of three ways, and its classification is based on the location of where it occurs in the mouth.
  1. Interproximal caries - On the sides of the tooth or in between teeth.
  2. Pit and fissure caries - In the deep grooves on the biting surface of the teeth.
  3. Root caries - On the root surface of the tooth or teeth, found most often when a patient has gum recession.
Dental caries is an irreversible tooth disease where the hard structures of the tooth demineralize from acids in the mouth. Most often these acids are produced as a by-product of the germs that live in the mouth, both on the teeth and on the surface of the gums. Rampant caries is a condition characterized by wide-spread and rapidly growing cavities and is a term used to describe a patient's mouth that has dental caries present in more than 10 teeth, according to Contemporary Clinical Dentistry. Dental caries is preventable with the proper education and conducting good oral health practices at home. Dental professionals believe that oral health starts in infancy with the establishing of a daily routine, outlines the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Caries in Various Age Groups

In early childhood, toddlers can develop rampant caries if they drink formula, milk, or low-pH fruit juice in a bottle or sippy cup right before bedtime. When a child's mouth is not cleaned before bedtime, the low pH allows the oral bacteria to feed on the sugars in the drink all night long. Demineralization thrives in environments when acid attacks the teeth. This process has been termed "baby bottle tooth decay," according to the American Dental Association.
Adolescents can be affected too if they drink low pH, high-sugar drinks, like soda, sports drinks or energy drinks. Adolescent caries present a challenge to dental professionals because they often involve permanent teeth. This condition can affect a teenager's confidence in smiling and socializing, and can also cause pain and discomfort that prevents the patient from attending school or work. In adolescents, cavities may be a sign of poor nutrition. Teens can improve their oral health by decreasing the amount of sugar in their diet and picking up healthy habits, such as chewing sugar-free gum, drinking plenty of fluoridated water and improving their oral home care.
Adults and the elderly can also experience rampant caries, especially those affected by dry mouth. When saliva production decreases due to aging, radiation therapy or certain medications, the mouth's ability to fight demineralization is diminished because saliva acts as a natural cleaner of the mouth. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, creates a perfect storm for cavities to appear and progress deeply into the tooth.


The elimination of dental caries is accomplished through restorative treatments that include the removal of the diseased portion of the tooth followed by the placement of a filling to strengthen the tooth. If too much of the tooth is lost to the rampant decay, the dentist may choose to place a crown on the tooth to protect the tooth. The restoration choice is dependent upon how much of the healthy tooth remains and where the tooth is located.
Regardless of age, the prognosis for patients who have had rampant caries is dependent upon their willingness to change their habits. Diet changes, improving oral hygiene and listening to your dentist's advice are instrumental in making sure their mouth remains healthy post-treatment.