The pleasures of digging into a pastry and drinking hot chocolate or a chilly Frappuccino are sometimes nixed by a sharp, unexpected pain on the nerve endings of the teeth.
Although nine out of 10 Filipinos suffer from teeth sensitivity, or pangingilo, majority of them will grin and bear it.
“We eat five to six times a day and food is usually at the center of every social occasion. However, did you know that some Filipinos compromise on life’s simple pleasures and great little moments because they have pangingilo?” said Maria Gianina Dita Fortun, associate product manager for oral care of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), an international pharmaceutical company. “About 88 million Filipinos endure the pain of pangingilo everyday. The problem is that most of us simply dismiss it.”
A high consumption of sweets and acidic foods and beverages, as well as over-brushing, can wear down the enamel, the protective surface of the teeth, and lay open the dentin, the inner layer. The dentin holds microscopic tubes that transit the sensations of hot, cold and sweet to the pulp, the center of the teeth. The nerves will then interpret these sensations as sensitivity or pain.
Receding gums due to aging or over-brushing will also expose the fragile roots and cause sensitivity.
“When there’s teeth sensitivity, it means that there’s something going on between the environment of the mouth and the nerve of your teeth,” said Rannier Reyes, member of the Philippine Society of Periodontology and of the Board of
“If a person has sensitive teeth and has a hard time brushing because of it, there will be more bacteria. This could lead to bone loss and, at worse, tooth loss,” he added.
Reyes noted that teeth sensitivity is just one of the indications of the appalling state of dental health in the Philippines. He quoted research that showed 87 percent of Filipinos experience tooth decay; 98 percent of children below six years old have cavities; and 78 percent are afflicted with gum disease.
“Compare those statistics with Scandinavia where children have zero tooth decay. A hygienist is assigned to prep schools. The children are given fluoride treatment and oral hygiene education until high school,” he said.
Reyes pointed out that because of poverty in the Philippines, many can’t afford a toothbrush. Medical missions have found many families sharing a toothbrush that is already frayed. A natural alternative is to chew guava leaves or boil the leaves to use as a mouthwash.
Reyes attributed the causes of weak teeth to Filipinos’ penchant for sweets, poor oral health care and lack of hygiene education.
“We are constantly exposed to sweets in the canteen and sari-sari store,” he said. “You probably had your coffee with sugar. When you let them sit on your mouth for some time, you are prone to developing acids. That’s why Filipinos brush thrice a day because their diet is high in sweets. If you don’t brush your teeth, the tubes (in the dentin) will get bigger and will be more prone to bacteria. More bacteria will lead to gum disease.”
Dental disease, said Reyes, is not taken as seriously as cancer or heart ailments. The solution is building a partnership between the health and education departments and the private sector in promoting oral health.
Some toothpaste brands have been developed to relieve the discomfort of teeth sensitivity; they can also serve as a gentler alternative to the popular toothpastes.
GSK, the maker of Sensodyne, even produced a P10 sachet to make the product accessible to the mass market.
Eduardo Cimafranca, GSK group product manager in consumer healthcare, said the Philippines is the fastest growing market in Asia for Sensodyne. Its 59-percent sales growth was driven by an information campaign and the affordable sachet. Market research has shown that Filipinos use Sensodyne as a therapeutic toothpaste.
“Our campaign conveys that people shouldn’t endure pain but should actively manage sensitive teeth. If you have pangingilo, you won’t be able to enjoy the great little moments. You won’t be able to enjoy hot, sweet, sour, spicy foods. Eating ice cream with your kids is best enjoyed without sensitivity,” said Cimafranca.
He added that another cause of sensitivity is the bleaching agent in teeth whiteners. Sensodyne has a whitening variant that does not contain harsh abrasives.
“An active ingredient, potassium, depolarizes the nerve so you don’t feel anything when you eat something hot or cold. It restores teeth to its natural whiteness,” he said. “We are educating consumers to use Sensodyne as a regular toothpaste to protect them from pangingilo because the condition can return.”
A mouthwash is considered an adjunct in oral care. “When a mouthwash is used properly, it can prevent the outgrowth of bacteria. It depends on how long the effects stay on the mouth,” said Reyes.
Cimafranca explained that the new Sensodyne alcohol-free mouthwash contains fluoride to strengthen the teeth, and potassium nitrate that counteracts the pain sensation in the nerve.
The executive added that GSK has been conducting outreach programs. “We have educational programs and medical missions. Our trucks bring dentists to barangays so the people can get first-hand recommendations from dentists. They get free sachets and experience the difference. Our mission is to help Filipinos do more, live longer and feel better. They can do more if they manage their oral health.”