When Tooth Sensitivity Becomes a Royal Pain
You’re eating a delicious ice cream in the heat of the summer, when suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your teeth…. You’ve got sensitive teeth. Join the club!
What’s tooth sensitivity?
Your teeth are protected by a hard outer layer known as enamel, which protects the dentin – the inner layer of your teeth. The dentin is made up of tiny openings called tubules, which allow hot, cold, acidic, salty and sugary foods and drinks to stimulate the nervesand cells inside the tooth, causing a sharp, though typically short-lived, pain.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
Many factors may lead to the development of sensitive teeth. The first thing you need to do is identify the cause of your tooth sensitivity and ask your dentist for advice. Here are the most common causes:
#1 Brushing too hard
Brushing your teeth too vigorously or using a hard bristled toothbrush may wear down your enamel, leaving the dentin of your teeth exposed and prone to sensitivity.
#2 Too much acid
Acidic foods and drinks can also cause your enamel to wear away, expose the dentin of your teeth and cause tooth sensitivity. That’s because acid attacks and temporarily softens tooth enamel.
#3 Tooth grinding
Did you know that the pressure exerted on your teeth when you grind is almost 10 times that of normal chewing? It is therefore not surprising that grinding your teeth – also known as bruxism – can wear down tooth enamel over time, leaving the dentin exposed.
#4 Tooth whitening with peroxide gels
Because the pores in the enamel are open after a peroxide-based whitening treatment, stimuli are able to reach deeper into your teeth. Also, they allow your teeth to lose water, leading to tooth dehydration and demineralization. All of this makes your teeth more sensitive for a few days, but once the pores close over the sensitivity settles down.
#5 Exposed tooth roots
When the margin of the gum tissue that surrounds the teeth pulls back, it exposes more of the tooth. There are a number of factors that can cause your gums to recede: gum disease, brushing too hard, insufficient dental care, hormonal changes and genetic predisposition.
When gum recession occurs, gaps form between the teeth and the gum line, leaving vulnerable areas exposed. The roots of the teeth are highly sensitive to stimuli without their natural protective covering – the gums. As a matter of fact, tooth sensitivity is usually the first sign of gum recession.
#6 Cracked teeth
A tooth can easily become cracked if it’s brittle and you chew on something hard. Grinding and clenching, as well as uneven chewing patterns can also result in a cracked tooth. The crack may be visible, though this is not always the case. Once the tooth is chipped, the crack will open each time pressure is applied to the tooth, allowing stimuli to irritate the nerves of the tooth and harmful bacteria to colonize the crack.
How can you improve or prevent tooth sensitivity?
Making a few small changes in your daily routine, including dental hygiene habits and taking care with what you eat and drink can go a long way when it comes to tooth sensitivity. Here are the top 5 tips:
#1 Daily brushing and flossing
Practicing good oral hygiene will help you keep your enamel and gums healthy. A mouth free of plaque and tartar will be less likely to develop tooth sensitivity.
#2 Using a soft-bristled toothbrush
Choose a brush with soft bristles to help prevent enamel erosion and gum recession. Also make sure to brush your teeth gently!
#3 Avoiding acidic and sweet foods and drinks
Take care with what you eat and drink. Avoid acidic and sweet foods and drinks, such as wine, coffee, soda, tomato, citrus fruits and sugary foods, as these can erode your enamel.
#4 Using a desensitizing toothpaste
Use desensitizing toothpastes that contain active ingredients such as potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride. Potassium nitrate clogs the tubules in the dentin and blocks pain signals temporarily. Fluoride, on the other hand, remineralizes and strengthens the enamel, forming an effective barrier when applied to exposed dentin.
Desensitizing toothpastes don’t go to the core of the problem and take some time before the effects kick in, but they can give you some relief.
#5 Regular dental check-ups
Visit your dentist at least one a year for a cleaning and a dental check-up. Regular check-ups are important so that dental problems may be detected and treated in the early stages. The type of treatment your dentist provides will depend on what is causing the sensitivity: gum recession, enamel erosion, tooth crack, grinding, etc.
If you grind at night your dentist can make you a custom mouthguard that will stop you from doing so. Also, most cracked or damaged teeth can be repaired by bonding a filling or crown in place. If necessary, your dentist will apply fluoride gel to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen your enamel and reduce the transmission of sensations. So if you have sensitive teeth, make sure to visit your dentist before it gets worse.