If you experience sharp pains when eating or drinking something hot or cold, you might be suffering from sensitive teeth. We think of our teeth as our reliable hard-as-bone tools that are highly useful when it comes to eating and smiling—at least when they aren’t hurting. We forget how vital dental health is when there isn’t any pain, but once it shows up we remember that we aren’t indestructible. The pain from tooth sensitivity typically doesn’t last longer than the period for which you are eating or drinking the less-than-temperate food or beverage. In some cases, people with tooth sensitivity also experience the same pains when brushing or flossing.
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Typically, what has happened is that the lower layers of your teeth, called dentin, have become exposed because of a weakening or absence of the enamel or gums that previously protected it. The roots of your teeth lie behind your gums, but as your gums recede, they are exposed; since the gums are typically their primary source of protection, the roots do not have an extra layer of enamel to protect them. There are thousands of tiny nerve endings in the dentin and roots, which cause pain when triggered by something you eat or drink that is particularly hot, cold, or sweet. This is a list of common causes of sensitive teeth:
- Gum recession: whether it’s natural, caused by gum disease, or brushing too hard, gum recession is a leading factor in tooth sensitivity.
- Tooth decay near the gum line.
- Chipped teeth lets bacteria into the inner layers of the tooth, also triggering the nerve endings and causing pain.
- If you grind your teeth, you will notice a weakening enamel layer, lessening their protection of the dentin underneath.
- Acidic foods and mouthwashes can attack and weaken enamel. Once gaining access to the dentin, the acids are extremely damaging to the dentin.
- Plaque build up near the roots.
Treating tooth sensitivity is relatively simple. There are many brands of toothpaste that offer desensitizing toothpastes that work to reduce tooth sensitivity after periods of regular use; try different brands to find which one works the best for you. Fluoride can also be applied over the sensitive areas in an attempt to strengthen the enamel there. As for dental procedures, there are a few options that you can discuss with your dentist. Fillings, fluoride varnishes, and dentin sealers can be applied over your exposed roots in order to protect them and reduce sensitivity. In severe cases, root canals may be used as a last resort if other treatments prove ineffective.
Prevention is always easier than treatment. Whether you’ve had sensitive teeth before or not, here are some good practices to prevent tooth sensitivity as well as encourage overall oral health:
- Brush twice daily, floss once daily. Keep your teeth plaque-free.
- If you grind your teeth, consider wearing a mouth guard at night.
- Avoid toothpastes with abrasive elements in them; these scrub away at your enamel.
- Limit acidic foods and drinks. These include sodas, citruses, wines, and yogurt. They attack the tooth enamel, leading to sensitive teeth. Drink or rinse your mouth with water after consuming any of these. Wait at least thirty minutes after drinking or eating acidic foods or beverages to brush your teeth, since your enamel is weakened and you could end up rubbing the acids deeper in, causing more damage.
- Consider using a fluoride rinse. It works to strengthen your enamel.
- Don’t smoke or chew tobacco. Tobacco is detrimental to your health for a variety of reasons, but specifically in relation to sensitive teeth, it weakens your gums and encourages tooth decay, both of which are causes of sensitive teeth.
Sensitive teeth, if left untreated, is highly detrimental to your health. The pain only gets worse, and as a result patients tend to start limiting their diet to reduce the pain. This typically leads to insufficient nutrient intake, and at the same time the teeth and gums are most likely further deteriorating. Sensitive teeth are a rather common ailment, and if treated early can be fairly simple to reverse. You can talk to your dentist about your options and start your journey to healthier, stronger teeth today.