The active ingredient in most desensitizing toothpaste is potassium nitrate. This chemical compound blocks pain signals that would normally travel from the nerve of the tooth to your brain.
What causes sensitive teeth?
When teeth erupt, they have a layer of enamel which protects the dentin underneath. If this enamel is worn away, the parts underneath are more exposed and the nerves can now feel things like air and hot or cold foods. How does enamel wear away? Things like acidic foods and beverages, tooth grinding and decay. Once enamel is worn away it’s gone forever. There is no growing it back. There’s a chance your sensitive teeth could be a symptom of something else that needs further dental treatment, but there are also many cases where a desensitizing toothpaste will be all you need.
What is the active ingredient in desensitizing toothpaste?
The most common active ingredient which you will find in Sensodyne and Pronamel is potassium nitrate. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−. Potassium nitrate is safe to consume in small quantities, and has even been used for food preservation and as a common ingredient in salted meat since the middle ages. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Potassium Nitrate has the lowest score (1 out of 10) for overall hazard.
How does the potassium nitrate work?
It makes its way through the dentin tubules. Dentin tubules are these itty bitty tubes that go from the outside of your teeth, all the way to the pulp on the inside of your teeth. The potassium nitrate enters into the dental tubules, all the way to the pulp, where they block the pain transmission to the brain. If you continue to use the desensitizing toothpaste, it can have a lasting effect as the potassium nitrate will build up inside the dentist tubules. So, if you go on a trip, forget to pack your desensitizing toothpaste, and end up using a regular fluoride toothpaste, you won’t have to worry about your teeth becoming sensitive again.
It’s still important to understand the root of your sensitivity
You really should tell your dentist if you are experiencing sensitivity. They will check out the area that’s sensitive and make sure you don’t need any other dental treatments. If you don’t then they will usually recommend the desensitizing toothpaste. It’s not a good idea to just switch over to using sensodyne without ever bringing it up at your check up.