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Understanding Sensitive Teeth

Are you experiencing pain when consuming hot or cold foods and beverages? The pain may be fleeting, but it can limit your enjoyment of a hot cup of coffee on a chilly morning or an ice cream cone with friends. The medical name for this issue is dentin hypersensitivity. The name might not mean much to you when all you want to do is drink a cold, refreshing iced tea on a hot day or a hot chocolate on a cold night. Sweet or sour foods and drinks can also cause a sudden twinge of pain.

To understand what dentin hypersensitivity is, you have to know how teeth are constructed. Our teeth have three layers. The hard outermost layer is enamel, which protects the nerves inside the teeth. Next is the dentin, which has tiny tunnels in it that connect to the innermost layer, the pulp. The pulp contains the nerves. If the enamel is worn down, cracked or decayed, the tooth will become sensitive. Only the crown of a tooth has enamel protecting it; the roots do not. A person with receding gums and exposed roots will probably experience sensitivity as well.

The Academy of General Dentistry states that over 40 million Americans have sensitive teeth, making it a common complaint. Dentists see people with one tooth that is sensitive, which can indicate a dental problem, or people with general sensitivity, which is often due to enamel wear. The good news is that this condition is not permanent, and while you should certainly see your dentist to rule out any serious conditions, there are things you can do at home to reduce your tooth sensitivity.

What Will Cause Tooth Sensitivity?

Learn what triggers teeth sensitivity so you can stop it.

Brushing Your Teeth too Harshly – Brushing teeth incorrectly will wear down tooth enamel. Eventually, it may lead to gum recession as well, which requires a dentist to fix.

Receding Gums – Tooth roots don’t have enamel to protect them. Once your gums recede, your teeth will become sensitive. There are several reason why your gums can pull back from your teeth including, toothbrush abrasion, aggressive flossing and gum disease.

Decay or a Fractured Tooth – Sudden sensitivity in one tooth can mean you have a cavity or a crack in your tooth where hot and cold sensations can reach the dentin. Sometimes, you can’t see a hairline fracture with the naked eye and you may not know about it. Eating ice or crunching on hard candies is often the culprit. See a local dentist for an exam and x-rays. If this causes your sensitivity, your dentist can repair the tooth and stop the pain.

A Cracked or Loose Filling – Metal and white composite fillings don’t last forever. They can crack or loosen, exposing the dentin. When exposed, the tooth becomes vulnerable to further decay and sensitivity. This is a serious problem that should be fixed as soon as possible. If you think you may have a cracked or loose filling, contact your dentist today.

Grinding Your Teeth While Sleeping – Grinding your teeth (bruxism) can lead to enamel wear, cracked teeth and broken fillings. Any of these problems can cause teeth sensitivity, among other serious conditions.

Overindulging in Acidic Foods and Drinks – Acidic foods and beverages, like citrus fruits and coffee, can strip away enamel if you overindulge frequently.

Teeth Whitening – Over-the-counter teeth whitening strips, gels and toothpastes can cause teeth sensitivity. Discontinue use and see your dentist for product recommendations. In-office professional teeth whitening can also cause temporary sensitivity, which your dentist will tell you how to handle.

What Should I Do About Sensitive Teeth?

If you have sensitivity in just one tooth or sensitivity that comes on suddenly and strongly, it’s important to see your dentist right away. You could have a dental issue, like a cavity, that needs attention before there is any further damage. If you have general sensitivity, your dentist can also help. If you’ve switched to less aggressive, but still effective, brushing habits or cut back on acidic foods, you may still have weakened enamel. Your dentist has solutions, like professional fluoride treatments, that can help strengthen your tooth enamel.

What Will Help My Sensitive Teeth?

If aggressive toothbrushing is causing sensitivity, learn the proper techniques, so brushing benefits your teeth. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and hold it at a 45-degree angle while brushing. Never brush from side to side. If you see the bristles bending as you brush, you’re pushing down too hard on your teeth.

Cavities and worn out fillings are usually an easy fix. After your dentist examines your tooth, he or she can tell you if you’ll need a filling or a filling and a crown. A cracked tooth may need bonding or a crown depending on the extent of the damage.

If your teeth grinding is causing your teeth sensitivity, a dentist can create a tailor-made night guard to stop further damage to your teeth. He or she can also repair any damage already done, such as covering cracked teeth with a crown or replacing damaged fillings.

If you have receding gums and your roots are sensitive, your dentist may suggest a gum graft. He or she will take gum tissue from one part of your mouth to use to cover the roots. This will also improve the appearance of your smile.

Limit you consumption of foods and drinks which are acidic, including:

  • Coffee
  • Wine
  • Soft drinks
  • Citrus products
  • Tomatoes
  • Yogurt
  • Pickled products

Your dentist can recommend several different ways to repair the enamel with fluoride that will protect your teeth from sensitivity. There are in-office fluoride treatments that are simple and quick. He or she may also prescribe a fluoride toothpaste that has far more fluoride than fluoride toothpaste you can buy in a store.

If you experience tooth sensitivity, consult your dentist. He or she can determine the reason and suggest solutions. Your dentist is your best resource when it comes to issues of the mouth and teeth. Don’t be worried about what they might say about your condition, they have probably seen worse and they are just glad you contacted them when you did. Tooth sensitivity can be a thing of the past with help from your dentist.

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(703) 997-0928