On a hot summer day, it is common to find yourself seeking a cool refreshment to make you more comfortable in the heat. What is not as common is feeling a sharp pain through your teeth once you take a bite or sip of a cool treat. We aren’t talking about brain freezes–we are talking about sensitive teeth! It is estimated that 45 million Americans struggle with sensitive teeth annually, which makes it an extremely common condition.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity can be triggered by hot or cold temperatures, sweet or sour foods and drinks, or deep cavities and fillings. Your teeth are protected by a layer of enamel that protects the exposed portions of your teeth below the gumline. If the enamel layer thins or wears down, it exposes dentin. Dentin is more porous and contains microscopic canals known as tubules which when exposed can allow fluid to flow through them and irritate the nerves within your teeth.
Various factors can cause or increase your risk of developing sensitive teeth. Some of the most common causes include:
- Acidic foods and beverages can eat away at your enamel and make your teeth more prone to erosion.
- Certain dental conditions may also increase your risk of tooth sensitivity such as overcrowding, crooked teeth, and misaligned bites.
- Over brushing with a hard bristle brush or firm hand can wear down on your enamel and expose porous surfaces that lead to your tooth’s nerves increasing sensitivity.
- Patients who grind their teeth may create small fractures in their teeth that may irritate nerves and increase sensitivity as well.
- Poor oral health habits such as not brushing properly or flossing may also cause plaque and bacteria to build up and break down your tooth’s enamel, weakening them and making them more susceptible to sensitivity.
- Receding gums can also expose areas that are normally protected by your enamel and increase nerve sensitivity in your teeth.
- Tooth decay, cavities, or deep or broken fillings that penetrate deeply close to the nerve may also cause irritation and the development of tooth sensitivity.
You may also increase your tooth sensitivity by using certain teeth whitening products or chemicals. The main ingredient in many whitening solutions is peroxide which can irritate the nerves in your teeth and lead to sensitivity.
Treating Tooth Sensitivity
Your treatment will depend on the cause and severity. If your pain is due to a recent dental procedure or cleaning, the sensitivity is most likely temporary and an over-the-counter pain reliever will help to reduce pain until the discomfort subsides.
For those whose sensitivity is caused by poor hygiene habits, then switching toothbrushes and brushing patterns can provide a great deal of relief. A soft-bristle brush will help to keep your teeth clean without damaging the enamel or gums. Using toothpaste designed for those with sensitive teeth can also help offer relief. Patients should notice a difference after several weeks of normal usage. A mouthguard can also be used to prevent you from grinding your teeth. In cases of receding gums or gum disease, your dentist may recommend a gum graft to cover exposed areas of your teeth to protect them once again.
If your sensitivity is severe and persists for several days, we may recommend scheduling an appointment to rule out cavities or other dental conditions that may be creating tooth sensitivity. X-rays may be used to determine an accurate course of treatment whether a root canal, new filling, a sealant, or fluoride gel treatment to help strengthen and protect your teeth from tooth sensitivity.
Once your tooth enamel is worn down, it cannot be restored or brought back so the best method of protection is prevention. Proper brushing and flossing techniques will help to prevent plaque buildup from eating away at your enamel. Sensitive teeth shouldn’t prevent you from living your life to the fullest and enjoying tasty treats. For more information on sensitive teeth or to schedule an appointment, contact Leslie B. Anthony, DMD today.