Tooth Sensitivity: Causes & Solutions
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Tooth sensitivity is a common dental issue experienced by Canadians. It typically presents as a sudden, sharp flash of pain. Many people find their teeth hurt when they have ice cream or a cold drink. Others experience discomfort when brushing and flossing.
In healthy teeth, the enamel (hard, outer layer) protects the dentin (softer, inner layer). The roots of the teeth are protected by the gums because they do not have a protective layer of enamel. If either the enamel or are gums are compromised, it leads to tooth sensitivity. When the enamel wears down, it exposes the dentin which is a sensitive layer of living tissue and tubules that communicates with the nerves of the teeth. Poor oral health and gingivitis can lead to gum disease and gum recession which exposes the roots of the teeth.
Enamel and gums can wear down due to several factors. Here are five common causes of tooth sensitivity:
1. You brush too hard.
Sometimes tooth sensitivity comes from brushing with too much force or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. Over time, you can wear down the enamel and gums, thus exposing the dentin. Dentin is connected to the tooth's nerves and causes a pain reaction to extreme temperatures, acidic, or sticky foods.
2. You grind your teeth.
Many people do not realize they are clenching and grinding their teeth during the day and at night. If you wake up with a stiff or sore jaw, you could be grinding your teeth while asleep. Grinding can wear down your tooth's enamel, lead to chips and cracks in your teeth, and cause gum recession. All of these expose the inner layer of dentin and make your teeth more susceptible to decay and sensitivity.
3. Your diet is acidic.
Regular consumption of acidic drinks and foods, such as pickles, coffee and tea, tomatoes, and citrus fruits, can cause enamel to erode, which increases the likelihood of sensitivity. If you are going to have a drink with a low pH, use a straw and rinse with water after.
4. Your tooth is damaged, decaying, or cracked.
A chipped or cracked tooth can cause pain that goes beyond tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will need to evaluate your teeth and determine the right course of treatment, such as a root canal, a crown, or an extraction.
5. You use tooth-whitening products.
Some people may have teeth that are sensitive to peroxide (a key ingredient in whitening products). There can also be sensitivity when using whitening products if the gums are receding or if there are cavities as both of these expose dentin. Additionally, whitening toothpaste may have abrasive particles which can further contribute to enamel erosion and increase tooth sensitivity.
The good news is tooth sensitivity is treatable. And there are several approaches you can try to alleviate your tooth discomfort. The first solution recommended by dentists is to switch to a soft-bristled brush and sensitive toothpaste. Specially formulated toothpaste can help to remineralize the teeth and to strengthen the protective layer of enamel. For those who have a habit of clenching and grinding, the dentist will recommend a bruxism guard to wear while sleeping. The guard will cover the teeth and protect them from further wear and tear.
Unlike most of the human body, enamel does not regenerate. Your dentist may recommend a dental sealant or bonding agent to repair worn enamel and to seal the exposed dentin. In more serious cases, such as with fractured or cracked teeth, the dentist may recommend a crown to protect the tooth from further damage. If the gums are receded, a gum graft procedure can be performed to cover the roots of the teeth. Finally, if the sensitivity is extreme and persistent, the dentist may recommend root canal treatment. During a root canal, the nerve is removed from the tooth so it can no longer relay pain signals.
As with most dental problems, the best course of action for treating tooth sensitivity is prevention! Brushing and flossing twice daily and regular dental check-ups will ensure your teeth are preserved for life.
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