Many millions of people suffer from tooth sensitivity at some point in their life, usually in the form of tooth pain in reaction to heat or cold. Tooth sensitivity has many causes, some more easily fixed than others. However, it’s important to know that tooth sensitivity is sometimes a sign of a more serious dental problem of condition. What follows are the basics of what you should know about having sensitive teeth.
First, we need to have an understanding of how teeth are constructed. The hard, shiny outer layer of your teeth is called enamel. This layer protects the softer, porous layer below, which is called dentin. On the part of your tooth that is rooted in your gums, the dentin is protected by a thin, hard layer called cementum. Inside the center of your tooth is the root canal, which contains a substance called the pulp, made up of nerves and blood vessels.
Tooth pain or sensitivity occurs when dentin is somehow exposed and heat or cold is able to penetrate through it and irritate your tooth’s nerve. Wearing away of enamel and cementum, along with receding gums, can cause dentin to become exposed.
You can wear away enamel a few ways:
- Bacteria build-up from poor oral hygiene can cause enamel erosion and decay.
- Brushing too hard or with a toothbrush with hard bristles.
- Eating or drinking highly acidic foods such as soft drinks or energy drinks.
- Grinding your teeth while you sleep.
In addition to erosion, tooth sensitivity can also be caused by a crack or a cavity in your tooth that you may not have realized is there yet. If you have persistent, intense sensitivity that doesn’t go away for a few days, come see as soon as you can so we can look for decay or damage.
The same goes for old fillings that may have become loose or developed tooth decay around them. Fluids can get under and around the filling and irritate the nerve through the dentin. If you find that a tooth with a filling has become extra sensitive, you should also come to the dental clinic immediately so we can see if the filling needs to be replaced.
Some people also experience tooth sensitivity after dental procedures, particularly professional teeth whitening or bleaching. People with hypersensitive teeth can also be irritated by the chemicals in some tooth whitening toothpastes.
Tooth sensitivity is also a notable symptom of gum disease. When you have gum disease, your gums can start to pull away or recede from your teeth, leaving the dentin exposed.
Often the best treatment for tooth sensitivity is a change in your habits and oral care routine. If you brush too hard or use a hard bristle toothbrush, switch to a soft bristle brush and try to brush less aggressively. If you’re irritated by a whitening toothpaste, try switching to an anti-sensitivity toothpaste that also contains fluoride, which helps remineralized and strengthen tooth enamel. With these changes, your tooth sensitivity will decrease and likely disappear over time.
If you still experience a level of sensitivity that bothers you, please talk to us. We may be able to offer you treatments, such as a topical anti-sensitivity paste, that can help.