Can tooth enamel heal from mild damage?

What prompts the question: Monday night, I noticed a strange sensation and mild pain at the top of one of my molars while chewing. I didn’t bit into anything hard or anything - I was eating bowtie pasta with pesto sauce.

So long as I quit chewing with my left molars, there was no pain at all. However, about an hour after first noticing the mild pain, I went to my bathroom mirror to have a closer look. I was rubbing a fingertip at the very top of the sensitive tooth. If I pressed down my finger with some force on top of the tooth, I could reproduce the same dull pain – but once I removed my finger, the pain was gone.

I have eaten very carefully over the last few days, sticking with mushy foods and liquids and “staying off” that bad molar. Last night and this morning, I repeated the probing of the tooth with my fingertip, trying to see if it’s still sensitive.

Now, even when I press down on top of the molar as hard as I can, I cannot reproduce the pain. I tested the tooth a little further by purposefully chewing a banana on the previously-sensitive tooth. No problems there. Not sure how it’ll hold up to sturdier fare … and I know I have to see a dentist (and will ASAP). But I do wonder about how the tooth could’ve gotten less sensitive over the space of a few days.

Tooth pain is often actually gum pain. It’s possible that a foreign object could have been stuck under the gum and caused pain that felt like it was coming from the tooth itself. Tooth pain also frequently comes and goes (and then comes back with a vengeance), so having a dentist inspect it is really the only way to reliably find out if you’ve got some kind of damage.

(I have no dental training, but I have far more experience than I’d ever wanted being at the business end of the drill.)

Tooth enamel does not regenerate itself.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tooth_enamel

I too once experienced exactly what you’re describing in the OP. The cause, it was eventually revealed after a trip to the dentist, was a cracked molar. I lived with it for a long time, as the pain was only sporadic and as long as I didn’t chew too hard on that side, it was okay. But I finally ended up getting a gold crown.

And be aware that cracked molars don’t always show up on an x-ray, if the tooth is cracked at such an angle that the film can’t really capture it. This is what happened to me–the dentist just assumed that it must be a cracked molar, because it wasn’t anything else, and it fit the symptoms. And once the crown was put on, the sporadic pain went away and I can chew all sorts of things on that side now.

So this is something that may come and go for a long time, until you make up your mind to have it dealt with.

Also, cracked molars don’t always result from biting something hard; sometimes the tooth just gives way for mysterious reasons known only to itself.

ETA: I have no idea why the sensitivity would come and go; after a “bad” day, it would be ouchy for a couple days, then get better. I’ve always assumed that the crack would fill in with crud and so help to bolster itself.

As you get older your gums recede, exposing more tooth to the air than before, which may make them more sensitive.

Thanks for the replies, all. DDG, your explanation certainly fits the symptoms.