Do you cringe at the thought of taking a bite of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee because it makes your teeth hurt? Does brushing or flossing your teeth cause pain? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.
While temporary tooth sensitivity may occur, if sensitivity lasts more than a week, you should see your dentist to determine the cause and ensure that it is nothing serious. There is no reason to suffer from the pain of tooth sensitivity when your dentist can offer treatments that will alleviate your discomfort.
What is Tooth Sensitivity?
Dentin hypersensitivity – more commonly known as tooth sensitivity – is a harmless, but sometimes painful, condition that occurs in up to 57% of people.
A layer of enamel protects the part of your tooth above the gum line, known as the crown. Underneath that gum line, there is a different protective layer called the cementum that protects the roots. And underneath both the enamel and the cementum, there is a less dense layer called dentin. When dentin loses its protective coating of enamel or cementum, hot, cold, acidic, or sticky foods can reach the nerves inside the tooth and cause pain.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
There are many possible causes of tooth sensitivity, and some are more serious than others. It is important to go to the dentist if you are experiencing any sensitivity so that he or she can find the source of the problem.
- Tooth decay and cavities
- Fractured teeth
- Broken or worn fillings
- Gum recession that exposes the tooth root surface, whether due to gum disease or naturally occurring with age
- Worn tooth enamel, which can develop from using a hard toothbrush or brushing your teeth too vigorously
- Tooth erosion from highly acidic beverages or foods, or due to bulimia or gastroesophageal reflux disease
Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity
If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, you will experience discomfort or pain when you eat or drink hot, cold, sweet, sour, or very acidic foods and beverages. You may also experience discomfort when breathing in cold air. Tooth sensitivity may come and go, or it may be continuous.
Treatment Options for Tooth Sensitivity
If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, rest assured that there are treatment options, both in-home and at your dentist’s office, which can alleviate your discomfort.
At-home treatments include:
- Desensitizing toothpaste: A specially-formulated toothpaste that can help block the transmission of pain sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, resulting in reduced sensitivity.
- Desensitizing rinses: Usually developed with high levels of fluoride, desensitizing rinses can also help relieve pain.
Dental office treatments include:
- Fluoride gel or varnish: Your dentist can apply fluoride directly to your sensitive tooth to strengthen the enamel and decrease its sensitivity.
- A crown, inlay, or bonding: These dental procedures can correct a flaw or decay in your tooth that may be causing pain.
- Surgical gum graft: If you’ve lost gum tissue from the root, your dentist can take gum tissue from another area and attach it to the affected area, thus protecting the exposed roots and reducing pain.
- Root canal: If sensitivity is severe and does not respond to other treatments, your dentist may recommend a root canal, which, while more complicated, is one of the most successful ways to eliminate tooth sensitivity.
Preventing Tooth Sensitivity
The first step to avoiding tooth sensitivity is to practice good oral hygiene. Gum recession, the leading cause of tooth sensitivity, can be stalled through proper brushing and flossing habits. However, while keeping your teeth clean is critical, harsh brushing or over-brushing can lead to increased sensitivity.
To avoid tooth sensitivity, practice the following habits:
- Don’t brush your teeth too forcefully and avoid side-to-side brushing at the gum line. Use a soft-bristled brush and angle it at 45 degrees to keep from removing enamel.
- Avoid foods and drinks high in acid or sugar. The foods and drinks your dentist warned you about as a child still apply. Foods or drinks such as soda, sticky candy, or anything high in sugar content can weaken your enamel. Reach for snacks like fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products to keep your teeth and enamel healthy. Not only are these snacks healthier in general, but they also keep your enamel strong by helping you produce saliva – a natural defense against acid and bacteria.
- Avoid clenching or grinding your teeth. Teeth grinding can wear away enamel. If you clench or grind your teeth while you sleep, talk to your dentist. You may need a custom-fit mouth guard, or your dentist may have to adjust the position of your teeth. In severe cases, muscle relaxants may be prescribed.
- Stop bleaching your teeth. This popular cosmetic procedure might make your teeth brighter and whiter, but it can be the source of temporary tooth sensitivity. Consider taking a break from bleaching your teeth to see if it improves your sensitivity.
Don’t Live with the Pain
If you think that you have tooth sensitivity, give us a call today. Pain does not need to become part of your life. There are ways to mitigate your sensitivity and get you back to enjoying the foods and drinks you love.
Smile! It’s good for you.