Is the taste of ice cream or hot coffee a painful experience sometimes? Do you feel discomfort when breathing cold air, brushing, consuming hot, cold, sweet or sour food? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.Many people suffer from sensitive teeth and it can start at any time. Tooth sensitivity is among the common causes of a toothache. The pain of tooth sensitivity is usually sharp, sudden and shooting. It can come and go, with sometimes being worse than others.
What is sensitive teeth?
Sensitive teeth are a common dental problem known as dentine hypersensitivity. Teeth can become sensitive when the enamel that covers them begins to erode.
The inside of a tooth is primarily made up of a material called dentin, which contains microscopic tubules filled with tiny nerve endings. An outer layer of enamel protects the dentin within the crown portion of your tooth, and the dentin extending down to the root of your tooth is protected by a layer of cementum. As the enamel wears away, the underlying layer of dentin is exposed, and results in discomfort when consuming hot, cold, acidic or sticky foods.
The level of sensitivity can vary, meaning you can experience anything from mild to severe discomfort. This is a condition that can develop over time, and most sufferers are between 20 and 50 years old.
Sensitive teeth can also be a warning sign of serious dental problems.
To be able to treat these issues, it helps to know what might be behind them. Once you’ve found the cause, you can find a solution.
Causes of sensitive teeth
Sensitive teeth can be caused by the following dental issues:
- Brushing too hard: Worn tooth enamel from using a hard toothbrush and using a hard grip while brushing aggressively.
- Tooth erosion: Loss of tooth enamel caused by attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks.
- Tooth decay: Worn leaky fillings and broken teeth that expose the dentin of your tooth.
- Gum disease: A build-up of plaque or tartar can cause the gum to recede down the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth.
- Grinding your teeth: A habit which involves clenching and grinding the teeth together usually at night which can cause the enamel of the teeth to be worn away.
- Dental treatments: Sensitivity after procedures such as crowns, fillings and tooth bleaching.
- Tooth bleaching: Sensitivity during or after bleaching treatments.
- Naturally shrinking gums:If you’re over 40, it could be that your gums are showing signs of wear and tear by pulling away from your teeth and uncovering your tooth roots. Those roots don’t have enamel to protect them, so they’re much more sensitive than the rest of your tooth.
Treatment of sensitive teeth
Sensitive teeth can be troublesome, but they can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Even in situations where there is no obvious cause for your pain, there are numerous treatments to help you manage the sensitivity.
Having a conversation with your dentist is the first step in finding relief from your discomfort. Describe your symptoms and tell your dentist when the pain started.
After your dentist determines the reason for your sensitivity, he or she will treat the underlying cause. Treatment may be as simple as fixing a cavity or replacing a worn filling. However, if your discomfort comes from gum loss exposing root surfaces, your dentist may suggest a gum graft that a periodontist would conduct to protect the root surface and support of the tooth.
Here are some of the most common treatments for sensitive teeth:
- Desensitising toothpaste: This contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced. There are many brands of toothpaste on the market made to help ease the pain of sensitive teeth. Your dentist should be able to advise you on which type of toothpaste would be best for you.
- Fluoride gel: Your dentist can apply an in-office fluoride gel to strengthen the tooth enamel. This technique reduces the transmission of sensations.
- A crown, inlay or bonding: These may be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity.
- Surgical gum graft: If you have gum disease that has progressed to a chronic or advanced stage, you'll need to treat this as well. Your dentist may recommend a surgical gum graft to cover the roots so they're protected again.
- Root canal: If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem. An x-ray should be taken to determine if a root canal could be the issue, and it will remove the nerve so it's no longer there to cause you pain.
How to prevent sensitive teeth
If you have dentine hypersensitivity, you can help to minimise further exposure of the dentine and relieve the painful symptoms by making some simple changes to your daily oral care routine and dietary habits. As well as keeping up to date with your dentist appointments, and making sure you maintain a good oral hygiene routine at home, the steps below can help you to prevent sensitive teeth:
- Brush your teeth twice a day: Last thing at night and at least one other time during the day. Use toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Avoid brushing your teeth from side to side.
- Change your toothbrush: Every two to three months, or sooner if it becomes worn.
- Avoid acidic foods and drinks:Soda, sticky candy, high-sugar carbs, all of these treats attack enamel. Instead, snack on fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, cheese or plain yogurt.
- Stop grinding your teeth: Over time, teeth grinding wears away your enamel. Sometimes, addressing your stress can stop the problem. If that doesn’t work, your dentist can fit you for a splint or a mouth guard.
- Take a break from bleaching: If you are thinking about having your teeth bleached, discuss sensitivity with your dental team before starting treatment. The quest for pearly whites may cause your pain. Thankfully, sensitivity from bleaching is usually temporary. Talk to your dentist about how the treatment might affect you, and whether you should do it.
- Don’t brush too hard: If you clean your teeth with a heavy hand you might be taking off more than just plaque. Side-to-side brushing right at the gum line can make your enamel go away faster. You should use a soft-bristled brush and work at a 45-degree angle to your gum to keep enamel clean and strong.
- Visit your dentist regularly: See your dental professional for proper assessment and to find out how to prevent sensitive teeth.
If you pass on hot or cold drinks because you know they’ll make your teeth hurt, it may be time to talk to your dentist about the possibility that you have sensitive teeth. Only a dentist can confirm if you have dentine hypersensitivity. If you are experiencing any dental problems, always consult your dentist for advice. During an examination, your dentist will talk to you about your symptoms, look at your teeth to find out what is causing the sensitivity and the best way of treating it.
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