How do we manage your sensitivity?

February 2, 2018by Mahesh Patel

Why I am not a good dental patient

I have to confess. I am not a good dental patient. I feel claustrophobic lying flat in a dental chair and it feels like a crowd of people  looking over me. I see a metal octopus arm holding a cycloptic street light over my face and a street drain the size of a fruit bowl on my left: the nurse reassures me I can have a ‘nice’ rinse with some antiseptic water. Urgh! In my mouth, a teaspoon of water that has not been sucked out by the nurse feels feel like a mouthful! I feel I am drowning! Anything alien introduced into my mouth feels horrible, oversized and painful.

We understand your mouth it is a very sensitive part of the body. In addition you are nervous at the new experience of ‘orthodontics’ and you have little idea what it is going to be like.

It is natural to feel this way. Evolution has designed us to tread carefully into the unknown. The mouth is a protective gateway to our body. It is sensitive to protect us from harmful substances.

I will not ask you not to worry or ‘relax’. If some one said that to me as I lay in a dental chair I really do not know what to do and probably get me even more worried to think why am I being told this?! Neither will I ask you to be ‘relaxed’. I really do not know how anyone can ‘relax’ in a dental chair. However, we will explain what it feels like before we do anything. You will find the experience is alright and not as bad as you imagined. Our team is good at what we do. However, we cannot predict how much discomfort you may feel in the evening once the brace starts to work and this is explained in our other blog at: why does it hurt after the brace is fitted.

Why is the mouth so sensitive?

The mouth is a protective gateway into the body. It is an incredible piece of evolution engineering.

The mouth is the only natural zone into which nutrients are taken into the body. In fact, even before we take liquids into the mouth, the lips can sense if it is too hot to do so. Think of the mouth as a security door where everything is checked before it is taken in. There are different sensors in the mouth: taste, heat, touch, pressure and pain. Theses sensors will check if things are harmful before being swallowed.

Pain, cold, light touch, heat, strong pressure receptors in the lining of the mouth

The mouth and the brain linked together:

The brain allocated a relatively large part of its system to the receptors in the mouth. These areas receive and  analyse signals from the receptors in and around the mouth to very high accuracy. Compare this to the area given to the leg:

Sensory homunculus
Sensory homunculus



The receptors are distributed with low thresholds. Low threshold means they are activated by very small changes. They are also present in high density in various parts of the mouth. This combination of high density and low thresholds means any change in the mouth is magnified and accurately located in the mouth. Ever had a tiny piece of hair or sand grain in your mouth? What a nuisance when you cannot even see it. This is how sensitive the mouth is designed.

This is why a grain of sand in the mouth feels huge. The same grain in your sock you would not notice it!

After we fit your brace and when we remove your brace:

The brace will feel lumpy and huge because the receptors are being triggered and send signals to the brain to say there is a change in the mouth. Sometimes patients ask if their lips are too far forward. I promise you it all looks normal but can feel strange for a couple of days. This is all the effect of the receptor activation.

When the time comes to remove the brace almost always, patients will describe the feeling as ‘weird’ because the receptors are firing off again due to the sudden change in the mouth.

This illustrates the protective role of the mouth.

Sensors at play: taste, touch, heat, cold, pain, pressure
Sensors at play: taste, touch, heat, cold, pain, pressure

The mouth will therefore, exaggerate any changes inside it.

When negative feedback is good!

The body has a clever negative feedback loop that control various functions in the body. The body will accept the brace as part of the body as this negative feedback loop calms down the receptors. Its the same as putting on your shoes. We notice them as we put them on but soon adapt as we get use to the feel! It is the same mechanism.

The mouth: It is an incredible piece of evolution engineering.