Dentin hypersensitivity is defined as 'a short, sharp pain arising from exposed dentin in response to stimuli which cannot be ascribed to any other form of dental defect or pathology'1. These stimuli are typically thermal, evaporative, tactile, osmotic or chemical.
The pain associated with dentin hypersensitivity affects 37% of Americans yet the majority of sufferers are unaware that the condition is easily identified and treated.
Impact of dentin hypersensitivity
Recent research reveals that 88% of dental professionals believe dentin hypersensitivity can affect patients’ quality of life, and 79% believe the condition is on the rise2. Despite this, many dental professionals do not routinely screen patients for the condition, causing it to regularly go undiagnosed.
Subsequently sufferers may alter their behaviour to avoid the pain3. This may include neglecting oral hygiene, failing to comply with oral care instructions or avoiding dental visits – all of which can increase the risk of dental complications.
Causes of dentin hypersensitivity
Dentin hypersensitivity is typically found in patients whose dentin has become exposed by gingival recession, periodontal therapy or loss of tooth enamel due to toothbrush abrasion, erosion or tooth wear.
Research also indicates 55-75% of patients may experience tooth sensitivity during professional whitening treatments4.
Diagnosing dentin hypersensitivity
The diagnosis of dentin hypersensitivity can be very challenging for the dental professional. It is important to conduct a thorough differential diagnosis of the dental pain to exclude the other possible causes, such as leaking restorations or fractured dentition.
Treatment of dentin hypersensitivity
Dental professionals are key in identifying patients suffering from the pain of dentin hypersensitivity. As part of a dental examination they can directly diagnose the cause of the pain using differential diagnosis. An appropriate treatment plan can then be recommended.
Implementation of the treatment plan may include recommendation of a suitable topical desensitizing agent for patients to use.
Management of dentin hypersensitivity
Prevention is the most cost-effective treatment option.
- A dental professional's first recommendation should include cessation of destructive habits such as aggressive or vigorous cross brushing and recommend twice-daily use of a desensitizing dentifrice
This has been shown in clinical trials to improve hypersensitivity and increase in effectiveness over time.
- If, after using a desensitizing dentifrice, the patient's dentin hypersensitivity remains a problem, clinicians should re-evaluate the differential diagnosis and consider in-office treatments beginning with the application of topically applied desensitizing agents.
- Addy M. Dentine Hypersensitivity. New perspectives on an old problem. Int Dent J (2002) 52; 367-375.
- Consensus based recommendations for the diagnosis and management of dentin hypersensitivity, 2009.
- Schiff T et al. Am J Dent 2009; 22(Spec Iss A): 8A
- Van Haywood B. Dentine hypersensitivity: bleaching and restorative considerations for successful management. International Dental Journal (2002) 52, 376–384.