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Treating Dental Sensitivity
At Home and in the Dentist's Office

by Shirley Gutkowski, RDH, BSDH, FACE

Another material, called a glass ionomer, may also be a good choice for some people. For those who cannot or will not brush a certain area of their teeth (for instance, the last molar), a glass ionomer can protect entire teeth from decay. This can be particularly useful for older adults and others who require assistance brushing their teeth.

Periodontal pain management
Teeth are, of course, not the only structures in the mouth that may be sensitive to certain procedures — gums and surrounding tissue can be, too. This is especially true if you are being treated for periodontal problems (those affecting the tissue surrounding the teeth). But thanks to some newer treatment methods and devices, periodontal treatments can be more comfortable than ever before.

Periodontal treatment often involves removing bacterial biofilm from pockets of infected tissue. When tissue is being manipulated to accomplish this, sometimes only a topical anesthetic is used. Often this comes in the form of a benzocaine liquid that is applied to the affected area. This form of anesthetic is also often used to help desensitize the throat for people who gag when dental x-rays are taken. Topical anesthetics can be hit-or-miss, so if you still experience discomfort during a procedure, alert your care provider. There may be another topical or injectable option available.

A topical anesthetic is also used before injection of a local anesthetic for dental procedures that require deeper numbing. After asking what flavor you’d like, the dental assistant will put a dab of gel on a cotton-tipped applicator and place it on the area of the injection for a minute or so.

A new device that was introduced in the summer of 2010 is proving to be an attractive alternative to topical anesthetics before injections. The device delivers pulsed vibration to the injection site (somewhat similar to the dentist manually jiggling your lip before an injection). The vibration confuses the nerves and blocks the sensation of pain while an injection is delivered. The vibration also helps disperse the injected liquid to get a better effect from the anesthetic. Doctors are also using this technique, called vibration analgesia, for injections of cosmetic treatments such as Botox.

Home care products
Over-the-counter products for sensitivity can work if given enough time; most should achieve their desired effect in about a month. The most common active ingredient in these items — mostly sensitivity toothpastes — is potassium nitrate. Potassium nitrate changes the chemistry of nerve fibers that are activated through exposed tubules. Over time the nerve fibers shrink, and the sensitivity won’t return.

One calcium phosphate product used in the dentist’s office is also available in over-the-counter pastes. The ingredient is called NovaMin, and it can be found in Burt’s Bees, SootheRx, and Dr. Collins Restore toothpastes. Some other toothpastes, such as Spry, also contain a calcium derivative that may help treat sensitivity. Check the label of sensitivity products to see if they contain a calcium compound.

Products that contain calcium phosphate or a similar ingredient for sensitivity can be purchased from many dental practices, as well. Buying from the dentist’s office has some practical benefits: Your dentist or hygienist can give you advice about how to use the product, and if it’s not working or you have any questions, you’ll have someone you can easily contact. (To learn more about who’s who at the dentist’s office, click here.)

Getting the help you need
People with diabetes are more susceptible to many dental problems, including cavities, fungal infections, and periodontal disease. It’s especially important, if you have diabetes, to practice good dental hygiene at home and to get professional dental cleanings regularly — both of which may be unpleasant and therefore neglected if you experience sensitivity. Any sensitivity that keeps you from brushing, flossing, using mouthwash, or visiting the dentist is cause for action.

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Also in this article:
Who's Who at the Dentist's Office



More articles on Dental Health



Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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