Answers to Your Questions About Sensitive Teeth
- On December 5, 2018
Tooth sensitivity is a common complaint among dental patients. If you experience localized, sudden, sharp pain in a tooth or teeth when you eat sweet, acidic or cold foods or drinks, you may have sensitive teeth. By some reports, at least 40 million adults in the United States have symptoms of sensitive teeth.
If you consistently experience what you think is tooth sensitivity, it is important to receive a professional dental appointment for a proper diagnosis. A dentist will perform tests on your teeth, including blowing air on your teeth and will ask you about when and on which teeth you experience sensitivity.
What Does It Mean When Your Teeth Are Sensitive to Cold?
Teeth are made up of several layers. The outer, hard, white layer is called enamel. Beneath the enamel is dentin, a hard material that has small tubules running through it. Under the dentin is a layer of softer tissue called the pulp. The pulp contains blood vessels and nerves. Nerves also reach through the tubules in the dentin, transmitting pain. Tooth sensitivity is usually caused when dentin is exposed.
Dentin can become exposed in a variety of ways:
- Old, Leaky, or Broken Fillings: Improperly positioned fillings can cause issues. When fillings are old, broken, or no longer sitting tightly, saliva and debris can seep down and cause dentin exposure.
- Brushing: If your teeth brushing is too aggressive, or if you use a toothbrush with hard bristles, the very process meant to clean and protect your teeth can become the cause of sensitivity. Over-zealous or rough brushing will wear through the enamel and expose the dentin.
- Plaque Buildup: Plaque is the combination of bacteria and sugar that coats teeth with a film between brushings. If too much plaque is allowed to accumulate on teeth, the bacteria will wear through the enamel, exposing the dentin and potentially causing pain.
- Teeth Whitening: Dental treatments designed to make teeth appear more white generally contain hydrogen peroxide. The chemical reactions of the hydrogen peroxide in the whitening treatment can sometimes result in teeth sensitivity. Often, teeth whitening sensitivity is not permanent and will subside within a day of the treatment, but symptoms can persist for some patients.
- Food and Drink: Some foods and beverages are known to cause damage to enamel. Chewing on ice, hard candies, gum, or other very hard or sticky foods can induce chips or breaks in enamel. Drinks high in sugar contribute to the degeneration of enamel. These drinks include sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and juices. Starchy foods such as bread and chips easily become stuck between teeth and are converted to sugar very quickly, leading to plaque buildup.
- Clenching or Grinding: Many people clench or grind their teeth without even knowing it, especially in their sleep. Patients who grind their teeth wear down the enamel over time, which could expose dentin and result in sensitivity.
- It is important to know that teeth sensitivity can also be caused by other dental conditions such as a cavity, a damaged filling, an abscess or a cracked tooth.
- Additionally, other diagnoses such as heart disease, diabetes or pregnancy can contribute to teeth sensitivity.
It is imperative to consult a dentist to establish an appropriate diagnosis and treatment plan to alleviate your teeth sensitivity.
What Can You Do if Your Teeth Are Sensitive?
There are several treatment options for those suffering from teeth sensitivity. Some common remedies include:
- Brushing: Prevent damaging plaque from building up by brushing your teeth regularly. Twice a day is the current recommendation. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and don’t over-brush, using gentle strokes.
- Desensitizing Toothpaste: There are many products on the market for sensitive teeth. Sensitive formulas are generally designed to block exposed nerve endings. Potassium nitrate is usually the active ingredient that works as a pain blocker. These types of toothpaste are brushed on and left (without rinsing) after your usual brushing routine. Ask your dentist which toothpaste is suitable for sensitive teeth if you need a recommendation specific to your condition.
- Fluoride: Receiving a fluoride treatment helps to strengthen the tooth enamel. Fluoride treatments can be done at a dental professional’s office, or you may be prescribed a treatment you can complete at home.
- Sealant: A dentist can apply a specialized tooth sealant to the surface of any teeth with exposed dentin, preventing sensitivity triggers from reaching the nerve endings that transmit pain.
- Root Canal: This procedure can be the most effective solution to sensitive teeth problems. A root canal removes the pulp portion of the tooth, eliminating the nerve endings that transmit sensation and pain.
- Regular Dental Appointments: The best treatments for sensitive teeth are preventative. The current recommendation for dental visits is at least every six months for adults and children. Regular visits to the dentist are an important part of your oral hygiene routine.
Get Tooth Sensitivity Relief Today
Sensitive teeth can be a major problem, as the symptoms dramatically impact daily life. You don’t need to suffer. Contact All Smiles Dentistry If you are experiencing any discomfort related to your teeth, we are dedicated to your oral health and comfort.
Image: Getty Images / AaronAmat