Does it hurt to eat cold or hot foods? Have you ever felt a sharp pain in your teeth when taking a sip of hot coffee or an icy beverage? If so, you might have sensitive teeth.
Tooth sensitivity is fairly common in the US, affecting millions of adults. According to some estimates, about half of the adult population has to deal with sensitive teeth. Understanding what causes tooth sensitivity, what you can do to treat it, and how you can prevent it can help you enjoy your favorite foods and beverages without having to worry about discomfort.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
A number of factors can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Your teeth can become sensitive when the enamel, the hard outer layer on the teeth, wears away. When you have enamel loss, the dentin beneath this protective layer becomes exposed.
Dentin isn’t nearly as hard as enamel (which is the hardest substance in the body). It has tiny canals running through it, which reach to the nerves of your teeth. When the dentin is exposed, the heat or cold from food or drink can travel through those tiny canals and come into contact with the nerves, causing discomfort.
One factor that can lead to a loss of tooth enamel and increased tooth sensitivity is brushing too hard. If you use a lot of force when you brush, it is possible to wear away the enamel over time. The same is true of brushing with a toothbrush that has hard or medium bristles.
The foods you eat and the beverages you drink can also contribute to tooth sensitivity. If you regularly eat or drink acidic foods and beverages or consume a lot of sugar, the acids can wear down your enamel.
Not having a regular oral hygiene routine can also increase your risk for sensitive teeth. Cavities and tooth decay have a negative impact on tooth enamel and can increase tooth sensitivity. Not cleaning your teeth regularly can also increase your risk of gum disease, which can contribute to sensitivity.
One common side effect of gum disease is gingival recession or receding gums. When the gums recede, they pull back from your teeth, leaving the roots of the teeth exposed. Your teeth’s roots are covered by a material known as cementum, which is softer than tooth enamel. When the roots are exposed, the cementum can wear away, exposing the dentin in the roots.
Other possible causes of tooth sensitivity include grinding your teeth, having a filling that is broken, or having a chipped or broken tooth.
How Can You Treat Sensitive Teeth?
If you have sensitive teeth, treatment usually depends on the cause of the sensitivity. For example, if you brush with a lot of force or use a hard or medium-bristled toothbrush, using a lighter hand and switching to a toothbrush with soft bristles can help protect your enamel.
When you see your dentist for a cleaning, it is a good idea to mention any sensitivity issues you are experiencing. They might give you a fluoride treatment to help strengthen and restore your enamel. They might also recommend brushing with a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth.
Toothpaste designed for sensitivity often contains ingredients that block the nerves causing pain or discomfort in the teeth. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth is also usually much less abrasive than standard toothpaste and won’t cause as much wear and tear on your teeth.
If you’re experiencing sensitivity as a result of gum disease or exposed tooth roots, your dentist might perform a procedure that restores the missing gum tissue. A gum graft surgery is one option, as is a non-invasive procedure known as the pinhole surgical technique.
During the pinhole surgical technique, your dentist gently shifts the gum line downward. There is no need to take a graft from one area of the mouth and transplant it over the gums. The pinhole technique typically has shorter recovery time and a reduced risk of complications as compared to traditional gum grafting surgery.
Can You Prevent Sensitive Teeth?
It is possible to prevent tooth sensitivity from developing or recurring. Practicing a regular oral care routine can help to keep your mouth healthy and reduce your risk of cavities and gum disease. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and brushing gently will help to reduce enamel wear on your teeth.
Your diet can also help you prevent sensitive teeth. You might want to avoid drinking sugary beverages or consuming foods and beverages with a high acid content, such as citrus fruits and lemonade.
If you have a habit that can contribute to sensitive teeth, such as grinding your teeth, talk to your dentist about ways to control it. They might prescribe a nightguard to wear or teach you relaxation exercises to help you avoid clenching your jaw. Dr. John Paul Gallardo is a periodontal specialist in the Miami area who also performs teeth cleanings and dental exams. He is always happy to educate patients on tooth sensitivity and can offer guidance and advice on how to prevent it. To schedule an appointment in Miami, FL, call 305-547-8687 today.