If you usually wince when you sip a chilled drink or take that first bite of ice cream, chances are, you’ve got sensitive teeth.
According to a report in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interface, researchers in China may have discovered a better way to take the sting out of sensitive teeth using an extract from green tea — and it may prevent cavities to boot.
“Sensitivity occurs when the teeth enamel gets thinner, exposing the underlying surface, the dentin,” Wenyuan Shi, professor and chair of oral biology at UCLA School of Dentistry, who was not involved in the study, tells Yahoo Beauty.
Dentin contains microscopic hollow tubes, or canals, but without the protection of enamel — think of enamel like a cap on a tube. Those exposed tubes make it easier for cold (and heat) to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).
Shi adds, “The stimulation of cells within these tubes causes a short, sharp pain when the area is exposed to hot or cold temperatures through food and beverages — or even by the air.”
There are several culprits behind sensitive teeth, from worn tooth enamel and an exposed tooth root to tooth decay (aka cavities) and gum disease, the ADA warns.
The standard treatment for sensitive teeth includes brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste, or some dentists recommend a fluoride gel — an in-office technique that strengthens tooth enamel to reduce sensitivity — according to the ADA.
In some cases, a crown, inlay, or bonding may be used to shield the tooth and ease sensitivity. In the study, the researchers noted that a mineral called nanohydroxyapatite can be used to fill up those tiny tubes in the dentin, ScienceDaily reports. The problem is that the seal can wear out over time thanks to acid produced by cavity-causing bacteria, tooth erosion, and everyday brushing. Because of these factors, researchers set out to find a way to bolster the seal. They found that encapsulating the mineral with a green tea polyphenol in silica nanoparticles helps it stand up to acid and everyday wear and tear.
Although more tests are needed, the study found that using the new combination on the dentin surface “was capable of effectively occluding dentinal tubules, reducing dentin permeability, and achieving favorable acid- and abrasion-resistant stability.”
The researchers also noted that the green tea polyphenol has been shown in previous studies to fight Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that forms biofilms that can cause cavities. In the study, the researchers found the green tea extract has the capability to “significantly inhibit the formation and growth of S. mutans biofilm on the dentin surface,” meaning it might be a good candidate for fighting off tooth decay as well.
But before you pour yourself a cup of green tea, Shi has some doubts as to how effective this new potential treatment is. “The validated treatment is to numb the teeth nerve or make the enamel thicker; not sure green tea extract can do either of these,” he says.
In a statement provided to Yahoo Beauty, the ADA agrees that more research is needed: “While the study is interesting, it is preliminary and additional research would need to be conducted in order to determine if it would work clinically.”
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