Dentine sensitivity is a common problem among Nigerians that hardly enjoys public attention. Olabisi Deji-Folutile writes on common causes of the problem and how it can be treated
Dentine sensitivity is a dental condition that many people have but don’t realise it. Hence, the condition is hardly seen as one of the health burdens of Nigerians. Yet recent statistics indicate that 30 per cent of Nigerians suffer from dentine sensitivity.
According to online resources, a tooth can become sensitive when the dentine is exposed as a result of the removal of a layer of enamel that protects the softer dentine underneath. This usually happens where the tooth and the gum meet and the enamel layer is much thinner.
People with dentine sensitivity can be sensitive to extreme temperatures. Some people have sensitivity for a short time during or after having their teeth bleached.
According to Dr. Tunde Banjo, a dentist with First Mobile Dental Care, dentine sensitivity can start at any time and can affect anybody, “but usually the problem is more common in people aged between 20 and 40, although it can affect people in their early teens and when they are over 70. Women are more likely to be affected than men.’’
He said having sensitive teeth could mean anything from getting a mild twinge to having severe discomfort that could continue for several hours, adding that it could also be an early warning sign of more serious dentine problems.
People with sensitive teeth are likely to feel the sensitivity when drinking or eating something cold or hot. Some people also have sensitive teeth when they eat sweet or acidic food. The pain can come and go, with some times being worse than others.
Banjo told our correspondent in a telephone interview that dentine sensitivity is a very big issue in Nigeria. He said the condition is caused by various factors including tooth picking.
He said, “It happens when a sensitive part of the teeth is exposed due to tooth wear, old age, wrong usage of toothpaste and hard brushing. Using teeth to open cans, accidental bites on stones, little cracks and fractures could extend to the teeth.
“Nigerians should be educated on the proper definition of brushing. Most Nigerians don’t brush their teeth, they scrub them,’’ he said even as he advised people to watch out for stones whenever they eat.
According to him, most drinks contain acid that wears off the teeth. He advised people to use straws when taking drinks. “If you drop a tooth in a drink, after some time it disappears, you won’t find the tooth there again. Acid wears off the teeth, so it’s good to avoid direct contact with acids, using straw can help reduce the impact,’’ he added.
At a recent event in Lagos, the Director, Clinical Research for GlaxoSmithKline globally, Dr. Stephen Mason, said, “Dentine sensitivity causes sufferers to experience short, sharp pain whenever they take cold or hot drink or highly sweet food. This is because a small piece of dentine has become exposed at the junction of the gum of the tooth which creates a gap that exposes a small area which allows the cold to be transmitted to the nerves causing the short sharp pains that consumers feel.’’
He explained that GSK had launched a new advanced formula Sensodyne with more fluoride, more mint and less abrasion. According to him, the improved formulation will help consumers with teeth sensitivity to better manage the condition.
According to the American Dental Association, several factors could cause the removal of the tooth enamel which often results in tooth sensitivity. These factors, according to the body, include toothbrush abrasion, dental erosion, gum recession, gum disease, tooth grinding, tooth bleaching and a cracked tooth or filling.
“Brushing from side to side can cause enamel to be worn away, particularly where the teeth meet the gums. The freshly exposed dentine may then become sensitive. Loss of tooth enamel could be caused by attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks. If enamel is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed, which may lead to sensitivity, ‘’ it said.
It added that gums might naturally recede (shrink back), and the roots could become exposed and more sensitive. Also, experts claim tooth grinding-the habit of clenching and grinding the teeth together, can cause the enamel of the teeth to be worn away, making the teeth sensitive.
Banjo, however, said some people could just have hyper sensitive teeth. The first symptom of teeth sensitivity, according to him, is sensitivity to cold drinks, sweet things, fresh or cold air. These conditions, he said, could be aggravated during harmattan or in an air-conditioned environment.
“The treatment will depend on the cause. It depends on what the patient presents with. Sometimes they come to complain of tooth ache, if the cause is something that can be handled by toothpaste, we can recommend sensodyne.
“We don’t tell people not to use chewing stick, but we advise that it must be soft and the user must apply it accordingly,’’ he said.
He advised fashion designers to stop using their teeth to remove pins from clothes or other hard things.
The Brand Manager of Sensodyne, Mr. Isaac Okanlawon, told our correspondent that “Most people who have sensitive teeth are not aware that their condition has a solution and therefore do not take any step to put an end to it.
“There is a huge need for awareness among consumers. There is need for partnership and association with credible organisations like the Nigerian Dental Association and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control to promote awareness and bring the issue of teeth sensitivity to the forefront.’’
He said, “Products like sensodyne have a new flavour, that could make consumers brush their teeth, morning and night. They also contain fluoride which is important ingredient in toothpaste because it helps people to fight dental caries.
“There is also an active ingredient in them called potassium, and you need to continue to use the product at least twice daily for a couple of weeks, at least and that enables the potassium concentration to reach a threshold which actually then helps calm the nerves and part of the body’s natural defence mechanism against pain.
“So by brushing twice daily, you are just supplementing the potassium that is naturally in your saliva and building up that protection against the pain of hypersensitivity after a couple of weeks.’’