According to the Academy of General Dentistry, at least 40 million adults suffer from sensitive teeth in the United States. While teeth sensitivity is one of the most common dental problems, it can also be one of the most disruptive. When teeth are sensitive, they produce a painful response to certain substances and temperatures. A sharp (yet temporary) pain can shoot through your teeth when you come in contact with coffee, soup, ice cream, citrus or even the cold air outside. Sensitive teeth, however, is not just an inconvenience, it can also be an indication that your dental health is compromised.
Why Do Teeth Become Sensitive?
While you may not realize it, your teeth have feelings! Deep inside each tooth is an inner pulp where your tooth nerves reside. In a healthy tooth, your enamel (hard outer-layer) protects the underlying layer of dentin, which is softer than enamel and contains thousands of microscopic channels that lead to the tooth’s pulp. The roots of your teeth have less enamel, but they are protected by your gums. Therefore, when your enamel gets damaged or your gums recede, the inner dentin and nerves of your teeth lose their protection. When exposed to the elements, the tubules within the dentin can allow heat, cold, acidic or even sticky substances to reach the nerves of your tooth, triggering a flash of sharp, undeniable pain.
Causes of Sensitive Teeth
There are a variety of reasons why your teeth may be extra sensitive or refusing those hot and cold substances. Letting a dentist determine the culprit to your teeth sensitivity is the first step towards finding a remedy. In most cases, teeth sensitivity can be reversed, but the treatment can look different for each patient.
The following are reasons why your tooth enamel and/or gums can become compromised and lead to sensitive teeth:
- Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush
- Gum recession
- Cracked or chipped teeth
- Teeth grinding or clenching
- Plaque buildup
- Excessive or long-term use of acidic mouthwash
- Acidic foods
- Teeth whitening (not overseen by a dentist)
In certain cases, patients may experience tooth sensitivity after dental work, such as following a dental filling or root canal. This type of sensitivity, however, should be short-lived. If it persists, your dentist needs to know. Your filing may be sitting too high or your bite may need to be adjusted to relieve the pressure and sensitivity.
How You or Your Dentist Can Solve a Sensitive Smile
There are several types of treatment for tooth sensitivity, depending on its cause. The Cleveland Clinic offers the following treatments to try at home:
- Desensitizing toothpaste
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Avoid highly acidic foods
- Use a fluoridated mouthwash daily
- Avoid teeth grinding or consider getting a mouth guard
Not all cases of sensitive teeth can be remedied on your own. If your tooth discomfort persists when exposed to hot and cold elements, consider scheduling an appointment with your dentist. This can not only address your current discomfort but save you from worsening and more costly dental pain if your sensitivity is triggered by an infection or decay. After determining the cause, your dentist may offer one of the following treatments to address tooth sensitivity:
- Composite bonding
- Filling, inlays or crowns
- Fluoride gel or varnish
- Surgical gum graft
- Root canal
- Dental sealants for exposed tooth roots
Who is at Risk?
There is no gender, ethnic group or age group that is more at risk for teeth sensitivity than the other. Everyone is susceptible to the enamel damage and gum recession that can trigger this type of dental discomfort. Unfortunately, far too many patients ignore sensitive teeth. They may simply decide to stop eating ice cream or sip their coffee when it has cooled to a lower temperature. While some cases of sensitivity reside on their own, if your problem persists, it is time to call a dentist. When it comes to your smile, there is no reason to live with discomfort of any kind. If you have mild sensitivity that does not warrant an urgent dental visit, be sure to mention your discomfort at our next routine dental checkup.
When your teeth talk, try your best to listen. Call Grateful Dental today to learn more about our treatment options for sensitive teeth.