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Understanding Sensitive Teeth

Do you suffer from temporary pain from eating or drinking hot or cold foods and drinks? A sudden twinge of pain when you have ice cream on a hot day or hot coffee on a chilly day isn’t normal. Some people also experience sharp pain when they take a breath of cold air outside on a wintery day or when they brush their teeth with cold tap water. Sour and very sweet foods can also cause pain. The pain may only last a short time, but it can have a significant impact on your daily life.

Sensitive teeth typically occur when there isn’t enough enamel to protect the nerves on the inside of the teeth from stimulus. You could have a crack in your tooth, you could have a cavity, or the enamel could be worn down from brushing improperly. When tooth enamel erodes, it exposes the dentin, the middle layer of the tooth. The dentin contains microscopic tubes that connect to the pulp. The pulp contain nerves which are triggered by certain stimuli, such as hot and cold temperatures. Receding gums can also cause sensitivity and enamel only protects the crown of a tooth, not the part exposed.

Often, sensitivity shows up in individuals in their 20’s to 40’s. This is about the time when enamel will show wear from over aggressive brushing or years of tooth grinding.

If you suddenly develop sensitive teeth, make an appointment with your dentist. You could have a dental problem, like a cavity. It will only get worse without treatment. Most treatments for sensitive teeth are simple fixes that can have you pain-free in no time.

Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?

Teeth can be sensitive for a variety of reasons, including:

  1. If you crack or chip a tooth and don’t notice it, this can cause sensitivity. Only one tooth may hurt, but it’s often hard to pinpoint which one.
  2. An untreated cavity can also cause localized sensitivity. Get regular dental exams so your dentist can treat cavities before the decay creates a hole large enough to reach the middle layer of the tooth.
  3. An old cavity which becomes loose can let decay creep under the filling material and cause sensitivity in the tooth.
  4. Tooth grinding can cause generalized tooth sensitivity. As the enamel wears thin, you can experience tooth sensitivity.
  5. Aggressive tooth brushing can weaken tooth enamel and cause generalized sensitivity. You should always use a soft toothbrush and a nonabrasive toothpaste.
  6. Teeth-whitening toothpastes and mouthwashes can cause sensitivity. Switch to products with the ADA Seal of Acceptance to ensure safety and efficiency.
  7. With gum disease, gums can recede. When the gums recede, the roots are exposed. They have some protection, but nothing as strong as enamel.
  8. Acidic foods, like carbonated soft drinks and tomatos, can hurt teeth by eroding your tooth enamel.

What Can I Do About Sensitive Teeth?

The first thing you need to do is determine why your teeth are sensitive. If your teeth are generally sensitive, you can try using a desensitizing toothpaste. Make sure you are not using a hard toothbrush or brushing too vigorously. Use products with the American dental Association Seal of Acceptance to ensure they are safe and effective.

If you have localized sensitivity, it is essential to see a dentist to look for a dental problem that could be treated. You could have a cavity or a loose filling. Gum disease can cause sensitivity at the gumline.

Treatments for Teeth Sensitivity

  1. If you fracture a tooth, the crack can cause sensitivity. Your dentist can repair the damage and stop your pain.
  2. Untreated cavities are a common cause of localized tooth sensitivity. A simple dental filling can stop our pain and prevent the tooth decay from spreading.
  3. Dental fillings don’t last forever. Metal fillings can last up to 25 years, while composite fillings typically last up to 15 years. Gold fills will last up to 30 years. Old, loose fillings can allow a new cavity to form underneath the old one, causing sensitivity. Once your dentist removes the old filling and cleans out the cavity, he or she can replace it. This should stop any sharp jolts of pain you feel.
  4. Grinding your teeth at night isn’t harmless. You may not be aware you’re grinding your teeth at night because it happens while you sleep. If there is no one to hear the noise, you can do a lot of damage unless you have regular dental exams. Dentists can spot the signs of bruxism, the medical name for teeth grinding and clenching your jaw. Your dentist can create a custom night guard for you that will stop enamel erosion and find ways to restore lost enamel.
  5. Brushing your teeth improperly can cause sensitive teeth. Overly aggressive brushing or brushing from side-to-side can result in enamel wear. Using a hard toothbrush can also result in excessive enamel wear. Use a soft toothbrush and a fluoride toothpaste that isn’t abrasive.
  6. If you recently started using a tooth whitening product, and have noticed your teeth are sensitive, switch brands. Ask your dentist for a recommendation.
  7. Receding gums can expose tooth roots. While gums can’t grow back on their own, dentists can perform gum grafts. They can also apply sealants or a bonding agent to exposed roots to protect them.
  8. Protect your tooth enamel by limiting your consumption of acidic foods and drinks. If you do have something acidic, rinse your mouth with water. Don’t brush for 30 minutes afterward as the acid will weaken the enamel temporarily.
  9. Have a professional fluoride treatment at your dentist’s office. The highly concentrated form of this natural mineral can help strengthen tooth enamel. Beside helping to reduce sensitivity, the fluoride can also reduce your risk of cavities.

You don’t have to live with tooth sensitivity. See a dentist to learn why you’re experiencing pain. Why give up the joys of your favorite food and drinks when there are easy, effective treatments available?

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