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Posted on: December 15, 2021
Understanding Sensitive Teeth
A bowl of hot soup, a spoonful of ice cream, and a cold glass of orange juice. What do these foods and drinks have in common? If you’re one of the 40 million people in the United States who experience tooth pain and sensitivity, you likely found out that hot, cold, or acidic foods and drinks are hard to enjoy without feeling pain. Everything from your diet to how you brush your teeth can trigger sensitive teeth pain.
Tooth sensitivity usually affects more than one tooth, and it can cause a sharp, stinging sensation that ranges from mild to severe. While the temperature extremes found in many hot and cold foods and drinks can trigger tooth pain and sensitivity, there are other triggers as well, including brushing and flossing, breathing in cold air, and sweet, sour, or acidic foods and drinks.
But, what’s making your teeth so sensitive, and what can you do to minimize tooth sensitivity? Here’s what you need to know about sensitive teeth, including common causes, treatment options, and prevention.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Before we explore the causes of sensitive teeth, it helps to know more about the structure of your teeth. Each tooth is composed of the crown, which is the part of the tooth that’s visible above the gum line, and the tooth root, which secures teeth into your jawbone. Components of teeth include:
- Enamel: Enamel is the strong layer that protects the inner layers of each tooth. Although it’s a hard material, enamel can wear away over time.
- Cementum: Located under the gum line, cementum protects the tooth root.
Dentin: This is a layer of much softer tissue that contains small canals or tubules, which lead to the nerve of each tooth.
- Pulp: Pulp is the soft tissue found in the center of each tooth, and it contains connective tissue, nerves, and blood vessels.
Teeth sensitivity develops when your tooth enamel wears away, revealing the dentin layer underneath. These are the most common causes.
There are several ways that dentin can become exposed, leading to tooth sensitivity. Here are the most common reasons for tooth sensitivity:
- Eating acidic foods and drinks: Lemons, oranges, grapefruit, tomatoes, and coffee are high in acidity, and they can wear down tooth enamel, which can contribute to tooth sensitivity.
- Alcohol in mouthwash: Rinsing with a mouthwash with a high alcohol content can cause tooth pain, especially if your tooth enamel is starting to wear away.
- Tooth whitening products: Using whitening toothpaste, bleaching gels, and whitening strips can increase your risk of tooth pain and sensitivity. The harsh ingredients in these products can wear down your enamel if used frequently.
- Brushing too aggressively: If you brush your teeth too hard, tooth enamel breaks down over time, which can make your teeth very sensitive.
- Gum disease: If gum disease isn’t treated, it can cause receding gums. When this happens, the roots of your teeth can be exposed. Since tooth roots are quite sensitive, gum disease and receding gums can cause pain and discomfort.
- Teeth grinding: Teeth grinding is a common problem that can wear down and weaken your tooth enamel over time. Wearing a night guard while sleeping can help protect your teeth.
- Recent dental work: If you’ve recently had a dental procedure, such as a root canal, crown placement, or dental filling, it can temporarily cause tooth sensitivity. Contact your dentist if sensitivity lasts longer than a week, which is a sign of infection.
- Cracked or chipped teeth: A chipped, cracked, or fractured tooth can cause tooth sensitivity since it allows bacteria to enter the tooth, causing an infection.
- Tooth decay: An untreated cavity can cause damage deep inside the tooth, which can affect the tooth’s nerve. Decay around old fillings can also cause sensitivity since they leave your teeth vulnerable to bacteria and acids.
Since there are so many reasons why you might be suffering from sensitive teeth, it’s important to see your dental professional for a proper diagnosis and customized treatment plan.
How Can I Relieve Sensitive Teeth?
Your dentist in Alpharetta can examine your teeth and gums and determine the cause of your tooth sensitivity and prevent the problem from getting worse. Depending on the cause, your dentist might recommend any of these treatments:
- Desensitizing toothpaste: After several uses, desensitizing toothpaste can protect the nerves in your teeth and help block pain. Talk to your dentist about which toothpaste is right for you.
- Fluoride treatment: A fluoride treatment applied by your dentist to the sensitive areas of your teeth can reinforce tooth enamel and reduce tooth pain and sensitivity.
- Desensitizing or bonding agent: To treat exposed tooth-root surfaces, your dentist may apply a bonding resin to seal the surface of your teeth.
- Gum graft: During a surgical gum graft, a small amount of healthy gum tissue is removed from elsewhere in your mouth and attached to the area where your gums are receding.
- Mouthguard: Wearing a mouthguard can protect your teeth from the pressure and damage caused by tooth grinding, helping reduce the pain caused by tooth sensitivity.
- Root canal: For severe tooth sensitivity and pain that doesn’t respond to other treatments, a root canal may be performed to treat problems involving the dental pulp.
Sensitive Teeth Prevention
Maintaining excellent oral health at home is the easiest way to prevent sensitive teeth. These tips can help you achieve a healthy mouth and reduce your risk of tooth sensitivity:
- Brush your teeth twice a day using gentle, circular motions.
- Avoid brushing your teeth too hard.
- Schedule a dental appointment twice a year for cleanings and exams.
- Limit your consumption of foods and drinks high in sugar and acid content, such as grapefruit, soda, and tomatoes.
By following these tips and receiving treatment from your dentist, it’s possible to live life without tooth pain and sensitivity. Remember, your dentist is your best resource for preventing dental issues. It’s important to develop a good rapport with a dentist you trust. Regular visits to the dentist office don’t have to be scary, in fact, they do much more good than harm!