Countless people experience some type of tooth sensitivity. If you notice pain or discomfort on the surface of your teeth or in the areas along the gumline, here’s what you should know.
What’s the Cause of Sensitive Teeth?
Tooth sensitivity results when enamel wears down enough to expose underlying dentin. According to the American Dental Association, this is usually due to:
- Acidic beverages: Coffee, tea, sodas and other acidic beverages can erode tooth enamel over time.
- Aggressive brushing: When people brush too vigorously, they can wear down enamel and increase the risk of tooth sensitivity.
- Poor dental hygiene: When people fail to brush or floss regularly, dentin may become exposed due to gum recession.
- Periodontal disease: Diseases of the gums, periodontal ligament, alveolar bone and cementum can all lead to increased sensitivity.
- Fractures and decay: Tooth sensitivity is a primary symptom of tooth decay or cracked teeth.
- Clenching and grinding: When people grind or clench while sleeping, they can wear down tooth enamel.
- Whitening products: Harsh, abrasive tooth whitening treatments can also wear down enamel.
Identifying the Symptoms
Tooth sensitivity typically results in momentary discomfort after being exposed to:
- Cold air
- Alcohol-based mouth rinses
- Hot or cold foods or beverages
- Sweet foods or beverages
- Acidic foods or beverages
- Brushing or flossing
If you experience tooth pain or discomfort, it’s important to visit your dentist to identify the cause. If tooth sensitivity is the culprit, there are some things you can do to minimize your symptoms.
Living with Sensitive Teeth
If you have sensitive teeth, you will need to alter your lifestyle to reduce symptoms. This means avoiding problematic things such as acidic foods and beverages, cold and hot beverages, sour candy, and tobacco products. You should also switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush and take a gentler approach to brushing. Certain over-the-counter toothpastes and mouthwashes may help reduce tooth sensitivity. The best products contain compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth to the nerve.
Professional Tooth Sensitivity Treatments
If you experience severe or prolonged tooth sensitivity, your dentist may recommend a professional treatment option, such as:
- Root canal therapy: This involves the removal of soft pulp within the affected tooth to reduce feelings of sensitivity.
- Fluoride treatment: A professional fluoride treatment can reduce tooth sensitivity by strengthening enamel.
- Covering roots: In certain instances, dentists can apply tooth-colored composite or use gum grafts to cover the exposed root area.
- Mouth guards: These can help patients who develop tooth sensitivity from grinding or clenching their teeth during sleep.
You should see your dentist any time you notice tooth sensitivity. In some instances, your dentist will recommend a special toothpaste that can help reduce discomfort. If the pain is severe or fails to respond to treatment, a more aggressive strategy may be warranted. An experienced dentist can determine the cause of your tooth sensitivity and recommend proper treatment.