If you have tooth sensitivity, you’ll experience pain when biting down on hard foods or consuming something hot, cold, sweet or acidic. Often the pain feels sudden and sharp. Tooth sensitivity can make eating and drinking a difficult and fearful task.
There are many causes of tooth sensitivity. In its essence, tooth pain occurs when a softer material called dentin transmits temperature or acidity to nerves in the pulp of your tooth.
Normally, dentin is protected by a harder layer of enamel, which may become weakened or damaged. Dentin also gets exposed when your gums have receded, as the roots of your teeth lack enamel. The reasons your teeth are sensitive may dictate which treatments are most effective for you.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Erosion of enamel on your teeth. If you have a highly acidic diet, the enamel on your teeth will erode more quickly. Bleaches used in whitening treatments also thin enamel. Usually, sensitivity caused by whitening treatments is temporary. Your dentist will probably recommend that you lay off of them for a while.
You might also wear down enamel if you grind or clench your teeth. If you grind your teeth during sleep, you should consider wearing a mouth guard at night. Finding a solution to your stress might also help the situation.
Recent dental treatments. Your teeth may become sensitive after a filling, crown, or any other restorative treatment. Sometimes, you might need a bite adjustment, but continued sensitivity could be a sign that you need a root canal. Check back with your dentist if the pain doesn’t go away after four to eight weeks.
Gum recession. Gum recession may occur due to aging, but the culprit is usually gum disease. As plaque and tartar build-up along your teeth, your gums start to recede, exposing sensitive roots. This usually results from poor dental hygiene, but it may be further exacerbated by smoking, as well as chronic illnesses and changes in hormones (often during pregnancy).
Cracked or damaged teeth. If your tooth is cracked, chewing will cause different pieces to move, exposing the pulp, which is full of nerves and blood vessels. If a crack goes untreated, the pulp may eventually become infected, which can spread to deeper tissues in your mouth, even reaching the bone underneath.
Deep cavities can also be a cause for sensitivity. Cavities do not usually cause pain, so if you have a toothache, you should see your dentist right away. Decay may have reached deeper parts of your tooth, signaling it is now approaching an infectious state.
Brushing too hard. If you’re brushing too hard, you can wear down the enamel of your teeth and cause damage to your gums. It’s best to use a soft-bristled brush. Move your brush in a circular motion, rather than moving it quickly back and forth.
Clinical Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity
If you’re experiencing a lot of pain while eating or drinking, you should speak to your dentist. Depending on the cause of the sensitivity, your dentist may advise one of the following procedures.
Gum grafts. Gum grafts can help resolve tooth sensitivity when roots are exposed by receding gums. A graft will be taken from tissue located on the roof of a patient’s mouth and then used to cover exposed roots. This treatment typically works to solve damage from severe gum disease.
Root canal. If your tooth has been damaged beyond what a filling can repair, your dentist may suggest a root canal. The dentist removes the pulp from your tooth, getting rid of nerve endings, which are no longer necessary once the tooth has grown in. While these nerves typically give you the sensation of hot and cold, they can be compromised to save the tooth.
Dental bonding. The dentist applies a special resin to your teeth to cover up sensitive areas. The process of bonding is similar to a crown but requires only one visit and minimal removal of material from the tooth. The downside to bonding is that it will stain and wear down over time, typically lasting four to eight years.
Fluoride treatments. Your dentist can apply a fluoride gel to sensitive areas of your tooth, which helps strengthen the enamel and also ease the pain. In some cases, your dentist may prescribe fluoride trays so that you can continue the treatment at home.
Treating Tooth Sensitivity at Home
Cut down on acidic foods and beverages. Carbonated drinks, wine, and citrus fruits contain a lot of acids. Limit acid in your diet to protect weakened tooth enamel.
Use desensitizing fluoridated toothpaste. Certain kinds of toothpaste can help with tooth sensitivity. Ask your dentist for a brand he or she recommends. Before you go to sleep, put a little bit of toothpaste on your exposed roots.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don’t go too hard on the brushing. Try more gentle, circular motions when brushing your teeth.
Wear a mouth guard at night. This can keep you from grinding your teeth while you sleep.