Maybe you feel it when you’re eating some ice cream, or sipping on some soup — a painful twinge of pain in your teeth.
What causes this and how can you stop it?
In today’s blog, we’ll learn about what tooth sensitivity is, common symptoms to look out for, and how you can treat it with the help of Dr. Catt and the team at our Rogue Valley office.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Also referred to as “dentin hypersensitivity.” tooth sensitivity is a condition where people feel pain or sensitivity in response to certain triggers, especially hot or cold foods. Tooth sensitivity can happen to just one tooth or multiple teeth, and can be chronic or temporary.
Once you start experiencing symptoms of tooth sensitivity, contact your dentist. Tooth sensitivity is often connected to more serious dental problems, but is also usually easily treatable. The sooner you treat it, the sooner you can prevent problems from getting worse and return to eating your favorite foods normally again.
What are the symptoms of tooth sensitivity?
- Hot food or beverages (for example: coffee, soup)
- Cold food or beverages (like ice cream or cold water)
- Acidic food and beverages (citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, sports drinks)
- Sweet food and beverages (candy, soda)
- Brushing or flossing
- Cold air
What causes tooth sensitivity?
Everyone is different, and some people are just born with more sensitive teeth than others. However, it also comes down to oral hygiene, time, and certain health conditions.
Tooth sensitivity is often connected to thin or deteriorating enamel on the tooth. Enamel is a hard, clear coating around the crown (top) of the tooth. It’s your tooth’s main layer of protection. Your enamel covers your tooth’s dentin, composed of sensitive tubules that allow heat and cold to stimulate the nerves of the teeth when exposed.
To summarize, when your enamel wears away, it exposes your tooth’s dentin, which causes nerve stimulation.
But what causes your enamel to wear away in the first place? Let’s take a closer look.
Brushing too hard
This one always surprises people, but it’s possible to brush your teeth too aggressively and actually cause damage to your teeth. You may be brushing your teeth too hard if you notice:
- Your toothbrush bristles are frayed
- Your gums are receding
- Your smile appears “dull”
- Your teeth feel sensitive afterwards
Grinding or clenching your teeth
Just like brushing too hard, chronically grinding or clenching your teeth causes your tooth enamel to wear down. Most people don’t even realize they’re doing it since tooth grinding, also known as bruxism, often occurs at night. Some signs you may have bruxism include:
- Pain, tenderness, or tightness in the jaw
- Headaches around the temples or ear
- Teeth that feel flattened or loose
- Tooth sensitivity
Regularly consuming foods and beverages that are acidic can cause the enamel to erode slowly over time. Examples of acidic food and beverage include:
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Sports drinks
Other health conditions, including GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and gastroparesis affect the stomach’s ability to digest food correctly, and cause stomach acid to move up through the esophagus to the mouth. This can leave an enamel-damaging acid on the teeth, later leading to tooth sensitivity.
If you’re feeling sensitivity in one particular tooth, it might be caused by tooth decay or damage. Once your tooth develops a cavity, a filling wears down, or your teeth become chipped, fractured, or cracked, you run an increased risk of developing tooth sensitivity. That’s because decay-causing bacteria creates holes in the teeth, wearing through the enamel and uncovering the dentin beneath.
If you’re like the nearly 50% of adults over the age of 30 living with gum disease, you may notice your gums start to recede. When gums recede, they pull back and away from the teeth, making the teeth appear longer and eventually exposing your tooth’s sensitive roots.
Gum disease occurs most often as a result of poor oral hygiene. It happens when bacteria hardens to form plaque on the teeth, causing the gums to become inflamed or infected.
Does tooth sensitivity ever go away?
Thankfully, yes it can! With the right treatment and preventive measures, tooth sensitivity doesn’t need to stick around for long. What’s important is finding the source of the sensitivity, treating it, and then implementing healthy habits to prevent it from happening again in the future.
How is tooth sensitivity treated?
- Using a desensitizing toothpaste — An easy at-home treatment that helps block the uncomfortable sensation from traveling to the tooth’s nerve
- Fluoride gel treatment — An in-office treatment that helps strengthen the tooth’s enamel
- A crown, filling, or root canal — To remove tooth decay
- Bonding — To repair chipped, cracked, or damaged teeth and prevent decay
What can I do to prevent tooth sensitivity?
To practice good oral hygiene at home:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste for a minimum of 2 minutes each time
- Floss daily
- Consider using a mouthwash
- Quit smoking
- Maintain a balanced diet, remaining conscious of your intake of acidic or sugary foods and beverages that may wear down your tooth enamel