Sensitive Teeth

Have you ever gone out on a crisp autumn morning and actually avoided breathing in for fear of causing tooth pain from the cold air? Or how about sipping coffee so carefully to one side of your mouth just to avoid that one tooth that’s been driving you crazy? Well, you’re not alone. Tooth sensitivity is tooth discomfort in one or more teeth that is triggered by temperature extremes, sugary or sour foods and drinks, and even by a misaligned bite. The pain can be sharp, sudden, and shoot deep into the nerve endings of your teeth creating pain in your teeth, jaws, neck and ears.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?Tooth sensitivity occurs when the underlying layer of your teeth, the dentin, becomes exposed as a result of receding gum tissue (the protective blanket that covers the tooth roots). The roots, which are not covered by hard enamel, contain thousands of tiny tubules leading to the tooth's never center (the pulp). These dentinal tubules (or channels) allow the stimuli – for example, the hot, cold, or sweet food – to reach the nerve in your tooth, which results in the pain you feel.

What Can I Do to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity?

  • Maintain good oral hygiene. Continue to follow proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.

  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush. This will result in less toothbrush abrasion to the tooth surface and less irritation to your gums. Brush gently and carefully around the gum line so you do not injure the gum tissue. 

  • Use desensitizing toothpaste. There are prescription toothpastes, rinses and custom-made fluoride trays available for sensitive teeth. With regular use you should notice a decrease in sensitivity. 

  • Watch what you eat. Frequent consumption of highly acid foods can gradually dissolve tooth enamel and lead to dentin exposure. They may also aggravate the sensitivity and start the pain reaction. 

  • Avoid teeth grinding. If you grind or clench your teeth, use a mouth guard at night. Ask your dentist about making a nightguard for you if you don’t have one. This alone may be one of the best investments you can make for your mouth.

  • See your dentist at regular intervals. Get professional tooth cleaning, oral hygiene instructions, and fluoride treatments every 6 months.

If you still have discomfort, talk to your dentist. There are many dental procedures that can help reduce sensitivity, including the use of:

  • White fillings and bonding to cover exposed root surfaces

  • Fluoride varnishes applied to the exposed root surface 

  • Dentin sealers applied to the exposed root surface

There are many factors that may lead to the development of tooth sensitivity, including:

  • Brushing too hard: Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed. It can also cause recession of the gums where the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth.

  • Recession of the gums: As gums move away from a tooth due to conditions such as periodontal disease, the root surface becomes exposed. The root surface is loaded with nerve endings that are especially sensitive to temperature changes, especially cold.

  • Acid Reflux Disease: This problem has become a major problem in our society. Acid reflux causes erosion of the tooth surface that can lead to sensitivity and even widespread tooth decay.

  • Dry Mouth: What used to be a common problem among the elderly now affects much of the population who takes any variety of medications. This condition, also known as “xerostomia” (pronounced zero-stomia) affects salivary flow, drying the mouth and creating ideal conditions for decay and tooth sensitivity to develop.

  • Cracked teeth: Chipped or broken teeth may fill with bacteria from plaque and enter the pulp causing inflammation.

  • Teeth grinding: Grinding (also known as bruxism) or clenching your teeth may wear down the enamel and expose underlying sensitive dentin.

  • Over-the-Counter tooth whitening products or tartar control toothpaste: These products are major contributors to teeth sensitivity.

  • Mouthwash use: Long-term use of some mouthwashes. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids that can worsen tooth sensitivity if you have exposed dentin (the middle layer of the tooth). The acids further damage the dentin layer of the tooth. If you have dentin sensitivity, ask your dentist about the use of a neutral fluoride solution.

  • Acidic foods: Regular consumption of foods with a high acid content, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, tea and red wine can cause enamel erosion.

  • Recent routine dental procedures: Sensitivity can occur following teeth cleaning, periodontal therapy, crown placement, and tooth restoration. Sensitivity caused by dental procedures is temporary, usually disappearing in 4 to 6 weeks.