What causes sensitive teeth, and how can I treat my sensitive teeth?
When you have sensitive teeth, activities such as brushing, flossing, eating and drinking can cause sharp, unbearable temporary pain in your teeth.
You take a drink of iced tea, bite down on a candy bar, or slurp some hot soup and the electric stinging sensation in one or more of your teeth sends you flying out of your seat in shock. You’ve got “sensitive teeth,” a rather mild name for what can be a wildly uncomfortable condition.
So what is really happening? Why do your teeth react so aggressively to hot, cold, sweet, or sour, and sometimes even to pressure? Dentists have the task to determine what actually is causing a patient’s discomfort, since teeth become sensitive for many different reasons, from trauma to dental disease, which can destroy tooth pulp, requiring a root-canal procedure to relieve the pain.
If you’re concerned about sensitive teeth, start by visiting your dentist. He or she can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain. Depending on the circumstances, your dentist might recommend:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. After several applications, desensitizing toothpaste can help block pain associated with sensitive teeth.
- Fluoride. Your dentist might apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain.
- Covering exposed root surfaces. If receding gums are the cause of your sensitive teeth, your dentist might apply a sealant to cover the exposed tooth roots.
- Root canal. If your sensitive teeth cause severe pain and other treatments aren’t effective, your dentist might recommend a root canal — a procedure used to treat problems in the tooth’s soft core (dental pulp).
A tooth is comprised of a pulp , surrounded by dentin and having an outer layer of enamel.
One or more teeth can become sensitive to even slight pressure if it has been “bruised” or otherwise traumatized — by your accidentally biting down on a popcorn kernel, for example. Often, teeth feel sensitive after they’ve been cleaned, filled, or otherwise worked on at the dentist’s office.
Sometimes this kind of sensitivity can take weeks or even months to go away. In other cases, people can cause tooth sensitivity by habitually grinding their teeth or clamping their jaws tightly shut. This type of sensitivity to pressure is due to bruxism and can be relieved using a mouthguard at night after an impression is taken by your dentist.
Sensitivity to temperature usually means teeth have been compromised in some way. Sometimes it means one or more teeth are hitting too soon or too hard because they have moved out of place slightly, changing how their surfaces meet to form your bite. These shifts may be caused by habits such as thumb sucking, or they can occur because the bone structure of one or more teeth changes.
By far the most common cause of tooth sensitivity to temperature and sweet or sour foods is exposed dentin, the hardened tissue just beneath the tooth’s enamel that contains microscopic nerve fibers. Dentin can become exposed as a result of dental decay, food or toothbrush abrasion, or gum recession. Regardless of the cause, exposed nerves make the teeth sensitive.
If you develop sensitivity in one or more teeth, first see your dentist to determine the cause. Then, if your sensitivity is caused by simple enamel abrasion or by normal gum recession, try the following home remedies for relief.
Bring on the desensitizing toothpaste. Unfortunately, widespread tooth sensitivity due to enamel abrasion or gum-line recession can’t be treated with dental fillings. Instead, try brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste, which you can buy over the counter. These special toothpastes contain ingredients that diminish sensitivity by filling channels (known as tubules) in the dentin.
Try putting some of the toothpaste on your finger or on a cotton swab and spreading it over the sensitive spots before you go to bed. Spit, but don’t rinse. Within a few weeks, your teeth should begin to feel less sensitive.
Try a fluoride rinse. Fluoride rinses, available without a prescription at your local pharmacy or in the dental section of grocery stores, can help decrease sensitivity, especially for people plagued with decay problems. Use it once a day. Swish it around in your mouth, then spit it out.
Sometimes, people with sensitive teeth need a stronger fluoride rinse or gel than the ones available over the counter. For example, some treatments for gum disease, such as root planing (which reduces plaque), can leave sensitive teeth even more sensitive than usual. In such situations, dentists can apply a fluoride gel that helps relieve the problem.
Keep your teeth clean. Plaque, the white gummy substance that forms on teeth, produces an acid that irritates teeth, especially if your choppers are naturally sensitive. Make it your personal attack against plaque by brushing at least twice, sometime after meal preferentially and before going to bed, and flossing as well.
Sensitive teeth are typically the result of worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. Sometimes, however, tooth discomfort is caused by other factors, such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, or a side effect of a dental procedure, such as bleaching.
Use a soft toothbrush. Often, people actually cause tooth sensitivity by brushing with too much force and/or brushing with a hard-bristled brush, which can damage the protective tooth enamel. When the gum-line recedes (often as a natural part of the aging process), exposed dentin becomes even more vulnerable to toothbrush abrasion. Use a brush with the softest bristles you can find, and apply only a small amount of pressure when brushing (actually, a lighter touch also allows the bristles to move more freely and do their job more effectively than when you press too hard).
Say, “Enough!” to paan Chewing tobacco, ” is a popular habit in some groups, especially among many male teenagers. They mistakenly believe it’s less harmful than smoking cigarettes. However, in addition to causing mouth cancers, chewing tobacco causes the gums to recede, a major cause of gum sensitivity and decay. Just as there is no safe cigarette, there is no safe tobacco.
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR ABOUT TOOTH SENSITIVITY
While you can often self-treat generalized tooth sensitivity, see your dentist if:
- Your teeth are persistently sensitive to pressure.
- A single tooth is persistently sensitive, which could indicate that its pulp is infected or dying.
- Sensitivity doesn’t decrease after two weeks of using desensitizing toothpaste.
- You have dental pain that lasts more than an hour.
- The gums around a sensitive tooth change color.
- You have any obvious decay.
You might also consider limiting acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits, wine and yogurt — all of which can remove tooth enamel. When you drink acidic liquids, use a straw to limit contact with your teeth. After eating or drinking an acidic substance, drink milk or water to balance the acid levels in your mouth. It also helps to avoid brushing your teeth immediately after eating or drinking acidic substances, since acid softens enamel and makes it more vulnerable to erosion during brushing.