How Do Desensitizing Toothpastes Work?
Does Desensitizing Toothpaste Really Work?
How Desensitizing Toothpaste Works
Teeth become sensitive when their hard enamel coating cracks or wears away. This exposes the next layer, called dentin, which is porous and contains tubules that transmit sensations to the nerve inside the tooth, according to the ADA. So when dentin is exposed, sensations like heat or cold can travel to the nerve and cause tooth sensitivity.
“Desensitizing toothpaste works by either blocking or clogging the tubules in the dentin,” says Genaro Romo, DDS, of Romo Dental in Chicago.
Whether desensitizing toothpaste will work for you or not depends on the underlying cause of your tooth sensitivity. For instance, desensitizing toothpaste won’t improve tooth sensitivity caused by certain medical problems, such as damage to the tooth's structure or a gum infection — these issues need to be treated by a dentist.
That's why it’s important to see a dentist to identify the cause of tooth sensitivity, says Van Himel, DDS, a professor and head of the department of endodontics at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Dentistry in New Orleans.
When to Try Desensitizing Toothpaste
If there's no underlying health problem causing your tooth sensitivity, your dentist may encourage you to try an over-the-counter desensitizing toothpaste. A number of different formulas may help. The 2019 ADA survey found that desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate is often recommended. According to theJournal of Clinical Periodontologyresearch, desensitizing toothpastes that contain ingredients like fluoride or potassium as well may also be beneficial.
From there, some dentists may also recommend an in-office fluoride varnish application to help relieve tooth sensitivity, according to the ADA survey.
If these approaches don't help relieve tooth sensitivity, you might need a dental procedure, such as a filling or a cap, to protect the dentin and find relief, according to the ADA.
How to Get Optimal Relief
Desensitizing toothpaste is safe if you follow manufacturers’ instructions, the ADA states, recommending that you select products that carry the ADA seal. It’s also important to be patient when switching to desensitizing toothpaste, as you may need to use it regularly over the course of a few weeks in order to feel results.
In order to maximize relief for tooth sensitivity, there are other steps you should take aside from using desensitizing toothpaste. Be sure to make any additional changes your dentist recommends, such as switching to a softer toothbrush, cutting back on whitening treatments, treating dry mouth, or addressing any dietary habits that harm your teeth.
And don't forget regular dental care. “Keep your teeth clean," Himel says. "Brushing and flossing regularly can help reduce teeth sensitivity." Also make sure to get regular dental exams and cleanings to prevent small dental problems from becoming big ones, he says.
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