If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity when you drink or eat certain foods or beverages, you’re not alone. Approximately 40 million adults in the USA have sensitive teeth.
The pain associated with sensitive teeth can range from something as mild as a twinge upon taking a bite of candy to sharp, shooting pain upon exposure to heat or cold.
It may also occur in only one tooth or several all at once. Although tooth sensitivity can occur at any age, it is more common among older adults due to the wear and tear on a person’s mouth that occurs over the years.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Tooth sensitivity is experienced when enamel is worn down, teeth are chipped or fractured, or the gums have receded. Eating cold foods such as ice cream or soft drinks can cause pain when they come in contact with the nerves inside your teeth.
Factors that can cause erosion of the enamel, including citrus fruits, brushing too hard and acid reflux create exposed areas of the nerves, hence the pain. Other causes include...
- Tooth decay - when cavities break through the enamel, the dentin is exposed which allows for the sensations caused by heat or cold to reach the nerves. If decay is untreated long enough it can go even deeper to the nerve and cause a painful infection.
- Gum disease - Periodontal disease can allow pockets to form along the gum line that expose the roots to painful stimuli.
- Worn filling or tooth fracture - similar to tooth decay, a worn filling or tooth fracture allows cold and heat to reach the dentin.
- Receding gums –the tooth roots lack the protective enamel that is on the tooth crown. Aggressive tooth brushing, aging and gum disease can all cause your gums to recede and increase your susceptibility to teeth sensitivity.
How to Stop the Tooth Pain
First, make an appointment with us. When you come in for an evaluation, we’ll check your teeth and determine what is causing your tooth pain.
You may only need a protective coating applied to the sensitive areas, which will strengthen the enamel and cover any exposed roots.
If you grind your teeth (bruxism), which can cause sensitivity and fracture teeth, a mouth guard could be the solution.
If the tooth pain is caused by a cavity, you might need a root canal.
We may recommend other solutions:
- Use a desensitizing toothpaste.
- Stop using tooth whitening toothpaste.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid harsh scrubbing of your teeth.
- Limit acidic foods such as citrus fruits and use a straw when you drink citrus fruit juices to limit contact with your teeth.
The good news is that we can easily treat most cases of sensitive teeth. However, the type of treatment you will need depends upon the underlying cause of your tooth sensitivity.
For example, a minor cavity may only require a simple filling. Tooth fractures may require a crown or extraction depending upon the severity of the break.
After looking at your gums, we may recommend a tooth cleaning combined with home care strategies such as flossing and using a soft-bristled toothbrush for your oral hygiene routine.
However, severe cases of gum recession may require aggressive treatment such as grafting. If worn enamel is the cause of your sensitivity, then we may apply a desensitizing agent in the office to provide prompt relief.
Preventing Future Tooth Sensitivity
There are several things you can do at home to prevent and reduce sensitivity.
- Always brush your teeth in gentle, circular motions while using a soft brush.
- Avoid highly acidic foods that may break down the enamel.
- Visit your dentist at least every six months for a cleaning and exam where they may also recommend using fluoride.
Teeth rarely cause pain unless some type of damage has occurred. For this reason, it is best to speak with your dentist at the first sign of sensitivity so that the problem can be corrected before it becomes worse.
By taking a proactive stance against sensitivity, you and your family dentist can work together to ensure that you can eat and drink comfortably whether you are enjoying a cup of hot coffee or an ice-cold drink.