In Australia, around 45% of all households contain at least one person who suffers from sensitive teeth or gums. Tooth sensitivity is often an early indication that something is seriously wrong with a tooth and while it may not be an immediate dental emergency, if left untreated, it might soon become one.

Today, approximately one-third of Australians avoid dental treatment because they can't afford it. However, as will be explained here, sensitivity can signal a serious issue and you should at the very least attempt to diagnose that issue before making a decision.

Enamel Doesn't "Feel" but Dentin Does

The protective outer layer of your tooth, which is called enamel, does not feel anything because there are no nerves within this material. Its primary job is to protect the underlying layer which is known as dentin. Dentin feels because it contains tubules leading to the nerve of the tooth.

Therefore, if the enamel is compromised in any way, this will allow hot, cold, sweet and acidic foods to come into contact with the dentin, sending shooting pains from the nerve chamber to your brain.

Sensitivity When Biting Down

If recently you experience pain while biting down as you eat or grit your teeth, in concentration, for example, this is likely to be an indication that the affected tooth is cracked.

Cracks are serious, especially if they extend vertically into the nerve chamber because the nerve will be exposed to the foods you eat, and bacteria may also enter the pulpal chamber. If the nerve becomes infected, the tooth will die but not before you experience considerable pain.

If you experience pain while biting down and releasing the pressure, and the pain feels like an electrical zapping sensation, you may have a cracked tooth. Seek immediate treatment before the tooth dies.

Prolonged Sensitivity That Increases When Biting Down

The presence of prolonged sensitivity as well as pain is an indication of infection. In this case, it is normal for a "pimple", or abscess, to develop on the gum in the vicinity of the tooth. As the infection worsens, this pimple will fill with pus, putting pressure on the tooth. If the infection leaks from the tip of the root, it may begin to break down the bone in that area, eventually causing the tooth to fall out but not before a substantial amount of bone is lost.

Even if you can't locate the pimple on your gum, seek treatment immediately.

Sensitivity That Is Felt When Drinking a Cold Drink

If your teeth or tooth has become sensitive to cold, you could be suffering from gum recession. Gum recession is caused by brushing with too much force, irritating the gums and causing them to recede or in more serious cases, gum disease.

When gums recede, they expose the neck of a tooth. The neck of a tooth, which is normally protected by gingival tissue (gum), is composed of dentin and if exposed, will send signals to the nerve chamber which cause you pain and eventually lead to an infection followed by the death of the tooth.

In each of these scenarios, you should book a dental appointment as soon as possible because your tooth may become non-vital, that is to say, the nerve inside it may die. However, even a non-vital tooth can become infected, and that infection can spread to your jawbone and even to your sinus cavity. 

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