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Posted on: December 3, 2021
Understanding Sensitive Teeth
You have sensitive teeth if you feel a sudden jolt of pain when your teeth come in contact with hot or cold foods or drinks or excessively sugary ones. The pain can occur in just one tooth or generally in different areas of your mouth. It is a common problem. Unfortunately, many people simply forgo the foods and drinks they normally enjoy, like hot coffee on a chilly morning or a shaved ice on a scorching hot day. It does not have to be a permanent condition, there are plenty of remedies available from the dentist.
There are two principal causes of sensitive teeth; enamel damage and gum recession. When tooth enamel wears down or has sustained damage, the damage exposes the dentin. Dentin has tiny tunnels in it that connect to the innermost part of the tooth, the pulp. The pulp contains the nerves. Hot and cold sensations can trigger the nerves, causing short, sharp bursts of pain. When gums recede, the dentin is also exposed, causing sensitivity in the parts of the tooth normally covered by the gum tissue.
An estimated 45 million Americans have sensitive teeth, according to The Academy of General Dentistry. Luckily, as common as this problem is, there are treatments available to overcome sensitive teeth. Seeing a dentist is the first step in finding a solution as you’ll need to know exactly what is causing the sensitivity.
Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?
Various things can cause sensitivity in teeth, including:
1. Brushing too Hard
You can literally brush the enamel off your teeth if you use a hard toothbrush and an abrasive toothpaste. It will take a while to erode your tooth enamel by being overenthusiastic about your oral hygiene, but if you’ve been using a hard toothbrush for years, your enamel can become thin. If the bristles on your tooth brush look flat, you may be brushing too hard.
2. Tooth Decay
Decay will eat away at tooth enamel, causing a cavity. Without treatment, you can lose enough enamel to expose the dentin, making your teeth sensitive.
3. Damaged Teeth
Chips and fractures in tooth enamel will cause sensitivity if hot or cold sensations can reach the dentin. You may not even notice a hairline fracture in your tooth, but it can still cause sensitivity.
4. Teeth Whitening
Some teeth whitening products you can buy online or in a drugstore contain ingredients that will make your teeth sensitive. Buy only quality products with the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance to ensure safety. Dentists offer professional-grade whitening kits to use at home and in-office whitening services that are safe and more effective than over-the-counter products.
5. Exposed Roots
An exposed tooth root is very vulnerable to hot and cold stimuli. Roots are covered by cementum, which isn’t as hard as enamel. Several things can cause exposed roots including overly aggressive toothbrushing and gum disease. Smoking can also cause gum recession.
6. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Grinding or clenching your teeth while sleeping will damage your teeth. It can wear down your enamel and fracture your teeth, allowing the dentin to become exposed.
7. Acidic Beverages
Acidic beverages, like soft drinks and sports drinks, contribute to enamel erosion. Even sugar-free soft drinks still have a high acid content. The acid will soften the outside of your teeth, so brushing right after consuming a soft drink will make teeth erode even faster. After 30 minutes to an hour, your saliva will neutralize the acid. You can also rinse your mouth with water afterward instead.
8. Overuse of Alcohol-Based Mouthwashes
Use mouthwash containing alcohol one or twice a day, no more. You can also switch to a neutral mouthwash if you’re noticing teeth sensitivity.
Teeth Sensitivity Treatments Dentists Provide
If you have sudden sensitivity in one tooth, you should see a dentist right away. You could have a cavity or a cracked tooth. Once your dentist fills the cavity or repairs the crack, your sensitivity should end. You will feel a little sensitivity after getting a cavity filled or getting a crown, but it is only temporary.
To protect an exposed root, your dentist may suggest a sealant or a gum graft to replace lost gum tissue. To protect against roots becoming exposed, get a professional teeth cleaning every six months and be sure to clean your teeth at the gumline at home to prevent tartar buildup.
If you grind or gnash your teeth at night, your dentist will recommend a custom night guard for you to wear. The night guard will cushion your teeth from damage while you address the issues that are causing you to grind your teeth.
What Can I Do at Home to Reduce Teeth Sensitivity?
1. You can use a desensitizing toothpaste to block the tubes in the dentin that allow stimuli to reach the nerves. While these can reduce teeth sensitivity with regular use, these don’t address the cause of the problem. So, be sure to visit your dentist as soon as possible.
2. Practice good oral hygiene at home. Brush your teeth gently with a soft toothbrush twice daily, using a circular motion. Use a fluoride toothpaste. Floss daily to reduce you chance of developing cavities and gum disease, both of which can cause sensitive teeth.
3. Limit acidic foods and beverages. Eat or drink them in one sitting so you can rinse your mouth with water or milk afterward. Avoid sipping on a soft drink or other acidic beverage all day long as this also the acid to stay on the teeth for long periods of time. Be sure to include foods and drinks with fluoride in your diet, including potatoes, spinach and black tea. Drink tap water if you have a municipal water source that adds fluoride to the water.
4. Your enamel can erode with age. Ask your dentist for recommendations for products with fluoride, including prescription strength products like mouthwashes. He or she may also recommend an in-office fluoride treatment to help rebuild thinning enamel.
There are multiple causes for teeth sensitivity and various ways to treat it. The best solution for you will depend on the reason the sensitivity began. See your dentist to find out why your teeth feel sensitive so you can find a solution to address the problem once and for all.