Sensitive Teeth? Here Are the Top Causes and Treatments
Your teeth might look healthy, but what issues are lingering under the surface? Sensitive teeth is one of the most common issues plaguing adults, with 1 in 8 people reporting ongoing sensitivity.
If you can’t enjoy an ice cream cone or a hot cup of tea without cringing as zings and jolts of pain shoot through your mouth, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Rather than avoiding your favorite foods or accepting a diminished quality of life, you can seek help from your dentist to minimize and reverse your sensitive teeth symptoms.
Why Do I Have Sensitive Teeth?
There are many different reasons you may have developed tooth sensitivity. This condition is officially known as “dentin hypersensitivity”. Anything from brushing hard to neglecting your dental care has the potential to trigger tooth sensitivity.
We know how important it is to brush, but only when it’s done properly! Brushing too hard wears away your gum tissue and tooth enamel. Imagine using a sponge to scrub away a coating of grime on a kitchen plate; you have to scrub with force to remove the grime. That’s exactly what happens to your enamel and gum tissue when you brush aggressively or use a hard-bristled toothbrush.
Without enamel and gum tissue to provide adequate protection, your tooth roots can become exposed. Every time a food, beverage, or gust of air touches those roots, you experience zings of sensitivity.
Many people grind their teeth at night without realizing it. This condition, known as bruxism, can cause significant damage to the integrity of your teeth. The grinding action wears down each tooth’s outer layer of enamel and makes the inner layers more vulnerable to exposure.
Teeth whitening is an important and popular cosmetic procedure, but it can cause tooth sensitivity if used improperly.
Most whitening systems use carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient because it breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. As soon as hydrogen peroxide touches the surface of your tooth, it passes through the enamel and breaks down the stain molecules responsible for visible discoloration. This has great cosmetic benefits, but it compromises the integrity of your tooth enamel to protect the underlying nerves.
You don’t need to avoid teeth whitening altogether, but make sure you don’t use your teeth whitening gels more frequently or for longer periods of time than recommended. Some brands offer peroxide-free whitening products specifically for sensitive teeth as well.
Acidic Foods and Beverages
If soda and orange juice are your go-to beverages, or if pickles and tomatoes are your favorite snacks, your teeth could be in trouble. A high intake of acidic foods and beverages creates gradual and ongoing erosion of tooth enamel. Of course, it also puts you at a higher risk of tooth decay. Both of these factors increase your risk of tooth sensitivity.
Signs of Sensitive Teeth
Sensitive teeth are very easy to identify. Unlike other health conditions that lurk silently in your body for years, sensitive teeth stimulate blatant symptoms that are impossible to ignore.
More than anything, you can recognize sensitive teeth by the “zing” of pain and discomfort that occurs in response to specific triggers. These are a few of the most common sensitive teeth triggers:
- Hot beverages and foods
- Cold beverages and foods
- Sweet or acidic beverages and foods
- Cold air
- Alcohol-based mouthwash
- Brushing and flossing
- Touching a tooth with a finger object (like a dentist’s tool)
- Biting or chewing down
The pain caused by tooth sensitivity is usually sharp, sudden, and spontaneous. You’ll know it as soon as you feel it.
Sensitive Teeth Treatment Options
You shouldn’t have to live with the constant fear of sensitivity pings and zings! Tooth sensitivity is just like any other dental issue- it can be treated in order to improve your comfort and happiness.
Ask your dentist about the following treatment options to find the best choice for you. Mild sensitivity may be resolved with something as simple as a different toothpaste, while severe sensitivity may require a more complex dental procedure.
Mineralizing or Desensitizing Toothpaste
Your teeth are composed of and sustained by minerals. When your teeth lose minerals faster than they gain minerals, you start to notice unpleasant symptoms like sensitivity. You can combat this issue with a mineralizing toothpaste that restores calcium, phosphate, zinc, magnesium, and other essential minerals into your enamel and dentin.
You can also use a desensitizing toothpaste that reduces sensitivity by blocking the transmission of feelings from nerves to the tooth surface. This effect builds over time, so you need to continue using the toothpaste to feel the benefits.
Mouth Guard for Grinding
If nighttime grinding is causing your tooth sensitivity, using a mouth guard is an easy solution. Simply sleep with a mouth guard in place to protect your teeth and prevent the damage that additional grinding would cause.
If all else fails, your dentist may recommend a root canal to permanently resolve severe sensitivity. A root canal is a way to save your natural tooth by removing all decaying content from its inner chamber, including nerves and pulp. Once your tooth is cleaned out, it’s sealed shut to prevent future damage. Your pain will subside immediately!
Take Action to Prevent Sensitive Teeth
Sensitive teeth aren’t inevitable! You can take action to protect your mouth from future damage and maintain the integrity of your smile. Prevention is always easier than trying to solve a problem that’s out of control.
Take these steps to improve your oral care routine and reduce your risk of sensitivity:
- Brush twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Use gently strokes when brushing
- Floss daily
- Decrease your intake of acidic and sugary foods and drinks
- Drink more water
Of course, it always helps to visit your dentist every six months as well. Your local Encinitas dentist will assess the health of your mouth, identify potential concerns, and help you keep your smile as bright and beautiful as possible.