Dentin hypersensitivity, more commonly known as “tooth sensitivity,” is the discomfort or pain experienced when your teeth come into contact with certain substances. It can affect people of any age for any number of reasons, and can be felt on one, several, or all of a person’s teeth. The experience can also be temporary or chronic, ranging from mild to severe.
Common triggers for tooth sensitivity include temperature changes (consuming hot food/beverages or cold food/beverages) or breathing in cold air; eating sugary or acidic (sour) food and beverages; brushing or flossing your teeth; or using an alcohol-based mouthwash.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
There are many potential causes for sensitive teeth. Below are some of the reasons you may be experiencing this problem:
- Naturally Thin Enamel – Some people are born with tooth enamel that’s thinner than average, making their teeth naturally more sensitive.
- Diet – What you eat and drink play an important role in oral health. Hard food and acidic food and drinks can wear down or eat away at tooth enamel, leading to sensitivity.
- Biting or Chewing on Hard Substances – Biting or chewing hard food, like candy and ice, can crack your teeth and should be avoided. Use the proper tools (like scissors or a nutcracker) for opening or cracking objects to prevent cracking or chipping your teeth.
- Overbrushing – Brushing too hard and too aggressively can erode tooth enamel, expose the dentin, and cause gums to recede, resulting in tooth sensitivity and pain. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush can also wear down the enamel on your teeth. Use a soft bristle toothbrush instead, and avoid scrubbing your teeth.
- Tooth Decay – Dental caries, or tooth decay, is the result of sugar (from food and drinks) reacting to the plaque bacteria in teeth. This interaction produces acids that can slowly eat away the enamel and dentin that protect teeth.
- Bruxism – Bruxism is the act of grinding your teeth involuntarily, mostly during sleep. Though it most cases mild enough not to cause any damage, chronic teeth grinding can wear down enamel and expose the dentin leading to tooth sensitivity. In its most severe, bruxism can crack teeth and result in tooth loss. Being the primary cause of bruxism, stress also plays a role in your oral health.
- Gum Disorders – Gum recession and periodontal disease expose the roots of teeth. Gum recession can result from overbrushing and excessive flossing. Periodontal disease is a chronic disorder that should be addressed immediately.
- Split or Cracked Teeth – Experiencing pain when chewing, biting down, or releasing the bite may be a result of having a split or cracked tooth. This requires immediate dental care; pay your dentist a visit as soon as possible.
- Tooth Whitening – Tooth whitening uses bleaching ingredients on your teeth to remove stains in the enamel. Your teeth may be sensitive during (or after) a procedure as the bleaching agent passes through the protective layers of your teeth and reaches the soft tissue, the pulp, at the centre of your teeth. The whitening component may also expose the dentin tubules (holes leading from the enamel to the pulp), causing hypersensitivity. The sensitivity you experience because of the whitening treatment is only temporary, and will go away over time.
- Eating Disorders – An eating disorder can keep the body from receiving the proper nutrients. The lack of nutrition can affect soft mouth tissue, like the gums, causing them to bleed. Additionally, eating disorders that involve purging or frequent vomiting (like bulimia) constantly introduce strong stomach acids into the mouth and over the teeth, wearing the tooth enamel. Both issues can lead to sensitive teeth.
- Gastrointestinal Disorders – Much like eating disorders (specifically that involving eating and purging) digestive issues like gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) can bring acid into the mouth, damaging tissue and the protective layer of your teeth.
- Pregnancy – Pregnancy alters the state of your hormones, sometimes causing an imbalance that could, in turn, can affect your gums, and can make dentin hypersensitive.
- Weather – Teeth can become especially sensitive to cold air. Cold air passing through the mouth and over your teeth can cause sharp pain. In fact, blowing cold air on teeth is one way dentists can test for sensitive teeth.
Caring for Your Sensitive Teeth
Caring for your teeth involves more than simply regular brushing and flossing. Here are some other things you can do to alleviate symptoms of tooth sensitivity.
- Avoid acidic foods and beverages – Although they are weaker than your stomach acids, acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and others can still damage enamel. Having a glass of water after eating acidic foods can help to rinse away the acids and prevent damage to the enamel.
- Snack on protein- and fibre-rich food instead – Leafy greens, dairy products (like cheese, milk, and plain yogurt) are both nutritious and stimulate your salivary glands. Saliva is your mouth’s natural defense against bacteria. Additionally, chewing on fibrous foods after eating removes plaque and reduces acid.
- Brush your teeth gently – Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to keep from damaging tooth enamel. Do not overbrush.
- Treat the pain as it arises
- Use desensitizing gel or paste – Desensitizing gel works by blocking the dentin tubules, preventing pain signals in your teeth.
- Use toothpaste with fluoride – Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, which can alleviate pain over time.
- Address dental concerns promptly – Usually, the more swiftly you address a problem, the simpler (and less expensive) the solution. If your teeth are cracked, or you have a cavity, get it addressed quickly by getting a filling or a crown put in. If the damage is severe, a root canal may be necessary.
Tooth sensitivity may be a sign of other dental issues. Make sure to book an appointment with your dentist so they can address the problem as soon as possible and before it becomes worse.
Whether your tooth sensitivity is temporary or chronic, mild or severe, you do not have to endure the pain indefinitely. You can take charge of your situation and not have to sacrifice your lifestyle or the food you enjoy. Take advantage of the various remedies and treatments available to you.
Lambton Shores Family Dental is an experienced and knowledgeable dental practice offering services for all ages and dental checkups in Forest and Kettle Point. We will determine the cause of your tooth sensitivity, get to the root of the problem, and recommend the best course of action. Your oral health and your smile are important to us and we will do what we can to help you manage or eliminate the pain. Give us a call at (519) 704-1400.