What Is Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity has to do with the wearing down of the protective layers of your teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the crowns, or the part of the teeth above your gumline, are covered with a layer of protective enamel. The roots below your gumline are protected with a material called cementum. Underneath the enamel and cementum is dentin, which is less dense than the protective coverings. The dentin contains microscopic canals called dentin tubules. When enamel or cementum wears away or becomes damaged, it exposes the dentin. When your gums recede and expose the dentin, the tubules allow fluid to flow in them and are affected by heat and cold, which causes the nerves in the tooth to have sensitivity and pain.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
Various things can cause tooth sensitivity. Some of the most common causes include:
- Worn tooth enamel from using a hard toothbrush and brushing aggressively.
- Tooth erosion due to highly acidic foods and beverages.
- Tooth decay, worn, leaky fillings, and broken teeth that expose the dentin of your tooth.
- Gum recession that leaves your root surface exposed.
- Grinding your teeth at night.
- Post dental treatment sensitivity is common but temporary, especially with crowns, fillings, and tooth bleaching.
Sensitive Teeth and Age
Sensitive teeth may occur at any age. However, research reported in the Journal of Conservative Dentistry suggests adults ages 20 to 50 are most likely to report sensitive teeth with the peak reports of dentin hypersensitivity with patients between 30 to 40 years of age. Although the exact reason for this is unknown, it may be related to the fact that the physical structure of the tooth changes with age. However, older individuals are more likely to have receding gums, one of the causes of sensitive teeth. Sometimes the main issue is wear and tear on the tooth enamel, which occurs over time.
How Do You Treat Tooth Sensitivity?
Because a more complex dental problem frequently causes extremely sensitive teeth, it’s important to see a dentist and have the issue treated directly. The solution may involve a crown, inlay, or bonding, depending on the severity of the problem. If you have gum disease that has progressed to a chronic or advanced stage, you’ll need to treat this as well. Your dentist can help make a treatment plan.
If you have lost gum tissue from the root, your dentist may recommend a surgical gum graft to cover the roots so they’re protected again. If you have persistent and severe sensitivity, your dentist will take an x-ray to determine if a root canal could be the right solution, which, according to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE), removes the nerve entirely.
If your tooth sensitivity is less severe, you can treat it with a few simple at-home tactics. You might be able to find some relief from a desensitizing toothpaste that helps protect the tooth surface. Your dentist might also recommend a fluoride gel treatment, strengthening your current tooth enamel, decreasing the sensations sent to the nerve.
The best treatment for tooth sensitivity, though, is prevention. Once your tooth enamel is worn down, you can’t get it back. Proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques can prevent sensitive teeth. It will promote healthy teeth and gums regardless of how sensitive your teeth are. Be careful not to brush your teeth too hard, as that can wear down the tooth enamel over time. Try using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a desensitizing toothpaste to help protect your enamel.
At your next appointment, talk to your dentist if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity. He or she can provide the correct diagnosis and recommend treatment options to get your smile back on track.
Tooth Sensitive experiencing and steps you can take to find relief for sensitive teeth:
1. You brush with too much gusto. Sometimes tooth sensitivity comes from brushing with too much force or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. Over time, you can wear down the protective layers of your teeth and expose microscopic hollow tubes or canals that lead to your dental nerves. When these tubes are exposed to extreme temperatures or acidic or sticky foods, tooth sensitivity and discomfort can result.
2. You eat acidic foods. If the pathways to your nerves are exposed, acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, and pickles can cause pain. But avoiding these foods can help you avoid any tooth discomfort.
3. You’re a tooth-grinder. Even though tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body, grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel. By doing so, you expose the dentin, or the middle layer of the tooth, which contains the hollow tubes that lead to your nerves. Talk to your dentist about finding a mouth guard that can stop you from grinding. The best guards are custom-made to fit your bite, Dr. Seldin says.
4. You use tooth-whitening toothpaste. Many manufacturers add tooth-whitening chemicals to their toothpaste formulas, and some people are more sensitive to them than others. If your toothpaste contains whitening agents, consider switching to one that doesn’t.
5. You’re a mouthwash junkie. Like whitening toothpaste, some over-the-counter mouthwashes and rinses contain alcohol and other chemicals that can make your teeth more sensitive — especially if your dentin’s exposed. Instead, try neutral fluoride rinses or simply skip the rinse and be more diligent about flossing and brushing.
6. You’ve got gum disease. Receding gums, which are increasingly common with age (especially if you haven’t kept up with your dental health), can cause tooth sensitivity. If gum disease or gingivitis is the problem, your dentist will come up with a plan to treat the underlying disease, and may also suggest a procedure to seal your teeth.
7. You have excessive plaque. The purpose of flossing and brushing is to remove plaque that forms after you eat. An excessive buildup of plaque can cause tooth enamel to wear away. Again, your teeth can become more sensitive as they lose protection provided by the enamel. The solution is to practice good daily dental care and visit your dentist for cleanings every six months — or more frequently if necessary.
8. You’ve had a dental procedure. It’s common to experience some sensitivity after a root canal, an extraction, or the placement of a crown. If symptoms don’t disappear after a short time, you should schedule another visit to your dentist, as it could be a sign of infection.
9. Your tooth is cracked. A chipped or cracked tooth can cause pain that goes beyond tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will need to evaluate your tooth and decide the right course of treatment, such as a cap or an extraction.
10. There is decay around the edges of fillings. As you get older, fillings can weaken and fracture or leak around the edges. It’s easy for bacteria to accumulate in these tiny crevices, which causes acid buildup and enamel breakdown. Be sure to see your dentist if you notice this type of tooth sensitivity between visits; in most cases, fillings can be easily replaced.
At Amrita Medical Center, our staff is happy to answer any of your questions and help you decide the right fit for you. We even offer same day appointments for your convenience. Contact us here!