If you’ve noticed that you’re avoiding eating hot foods or drinking cold drinks because your teeth are sensitive, then it is time to get to the bottom of the problem! Although it is uncomfortable, tooth sensitivity is a warning sign of a potentially more serious problem. Tooth sensitivity can also be treated and usually cured, but if it is left untreated, then it can become a larger problem.
Having sensitive teeth is a fairly common problem for a lot of people, but what causes sensitive teeth and what can you do about it?
What is tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity is due to the wearing down of the protective layers that make up your teeth. When the outer layer of your tooth is damaged, then the layer of dentin within your tooth becomes exposed and the dentine contains a lot of very small holes which run directly to the nerves in and underneath your teeth.
This exposure to the nerve is what causes the feeling and sensation of tooth sensitivity. It could be a temporary problem, caused by previous dental work, or it can become chronic. Tooth sensitivity can also affect one single tooth, several teeth or all teeth, depending on the seriousness of the issues and can have a number of different causes, however, most are due to a change in your dental treatment or regime.
Symptoms of sensitive teeth
If you are suffering from sensitive teeth, then you will likely be experiencing pain and discomfort because of certain triggers. The symptoms of sensitive vary depending on the severity of your case but often can include feelings of pain at the root of your tooth or teeth, searing pain through the centre of your tooth and receding gums.
If you’re biting down on something and are getting pain or discomfort, or your teeth feel weaker than usual, then this could be a sign of something more serious than just tooth sensitivity and needs to be investigated further.
Why does tooth sensitivity happen?
There are several different reasons as to why you may suffer from tooth sensitivity. Some people naturally have sensitive teeth due to having thinner tooth enamel, which leaves them more susceptible to feeling the sensations of sensitive teeth. In other cases, you can wear down your natural tooth enamel from things such as:
- Using a hard toothbrush
- Eating acidic foods and drinks
- Grinding your teeth during your sleep
- Brushing your teeth too hard
Some health conditions can also lead to tooth sensitivity. Gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, causes acid to come up from the stomach and can wear down tooth enamel over time. Other conditions which cause increased or frequent vomiting, such as pregnancy or bulimia, can also cause enamel to weaken.
Gum recession, which leaves sections of your tooth/teeth exposed can cause tooth sensitivity too, but poor dental hygiene maintenance and upkeep is one of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity. Tooth decay, chipped teeth and old or missing fillings can also leave the sensitive layer of dentin exposed, which then causes tooth sensitivity. If this is the case, then you will likely only feel pain or discomfort in a certain tooth or area of your mouth as opposed to the majority of your teeth.
You may also notice an increase in tooth sensitivity following on from other dental procedures, such as fillings, veneers or braces and Invisalign treatments. In this case, it is likely that your tooth sensitivity will be contained to a few singular teeth or the area surrounding where you had dental work done and should subside after a week or so.
Teeth whitening procedures often leave patients with sensitive teeth afterwards, especially when done at home. Try to avoid at-home treatments, such as whitening strips and whitening toothpaste, as they can contain bleaching and abrasive agents which can further damage your teeth. If you feel as though you need a teeth whitening procedure, then it is always best to discuss this with your dentist as they will be able to recommend the best treatment with your current dental health in mind.
Can tooth sensitivity be treated?
Because there is a chance that your tooth sensitivity may be caused by a more serious dental problem, it’s always best to get your teeth checked by your dentist to identify any underlying causes. If there is an underlying issue, such as decay, then the treatment may include composite bonding, a crown or filling to protect your tooth.
Keeping up with regular dental checkups is important, as your dentist can also monitor your symptoms and be able to spot if there are any causes or issues which you might not see. If you suspect any issues such as a cavity, or notice a change in your gum health, then treatment can stop things from progressing and getting worse.
If your tooth sensitivity is less severe and isn’t causing you too much trouble, but is still a bit uncomfortable, then there are some ways that you can treat it at home. You may be able to get some relief from toothpaste specially formulated for sensitive teeth which helps to protect and strengthen the tooth’s enamel. Your dentist may recommend or provide you with a gel treatment that you apply directly to your teeth and gum line to ease the sensations sent through the dentine to the nerve.
The best treatment for tooth sensitivity, however, is prevention, as once your enamel has worn down, there is no way that you can get it back. Proper dental hygiene techniques, such as regular and proper brushing and flossing, can help to prevent sensitive teeth by keeping your teeth and mouth healthy. When brushing, try not to brush too hard and avoid brushing within an hour after eating or drinking, as this can cause your enamel to wear away much quicker.