Sensitive teeth can refer to anything ranging from mild twinges to extremely painful sensations that last for hours. Having tooth sensitivity could be an early sign of an underlying dental health abnormality.
Who is affected?
This is an issue that affects many people and can occur at any point. The most common sufferers are those aged between 20 and 40 but it can also affect people over 70 or those in their early teens. It is more common for women than for men.
What are the causes of sensitive teeth?
The portion of the tooth visible when you open your mouth is coated in an enamel layer to protect the softer tissue underneath. A tooth may become more susceptible if the dentin area is exposed, which normally occurs where the enamel layer is thinner at the meeting of the gums and teeth. The main reasons for sensitivity include:
- Toothbrush abrasion: Dentin can become worn if teeth are brushed too hard or brushed from side to side. This area can then become sensitive to cold and hot foodstuffs.
- Dental erosion: Acidic drinks or food can erode the teeth by wearing away the layers of tooth enamel. If enamel is lost the dentin will be exposed and can become sensitive.
- Gum recession: In some cases, gums can begin to recede naturally, meaning the roots are more exposed and prone to sensitivity. There is no layer of enamel to protect the root surfaces.
- Gum disease: Gums can start to recede if any tartar or plaque has built up around the area. If this happens the bone supporting the tooth can be affected and pockets may form around the teeth and the gums, which then aggravates the problem by making it more difficult to maintain oral hygiene.
- Tooth grinding: This is when the teeth clench together and wear away the tooth layers, also known as bruxism.
Other sources of pain caused by sensitive teeth include:
Cracked filling or tooth: Cracks can run from a tooth’s biting surface to its root. Resulting in discomfort caused by extreme temperatures; the cold is a particular problem.
Tooth bleaching: Sensitive teeth can be an issue for a short while following tooth bleaching. You should ask your dentist about such issues prior to whitening treatment.
Can I treat sensitive teeth at home?
Numerous toothpaste brands are designed to ease the discomfort caused by sensitive teeth. Teeth should be brushed twice daily using such specialist toothpaste, and it may also be rubbed on the areas that are prone to sensitivity. The difference can be noticed in days or weeks, but you should discuss the use of such products with your dentist.
Are there any things I need to avoid?
It may be best to avoid overly cold, hot, acidic or sweet drinks and foods such as ice cream as these can cause sensitivity. Warm water from the tap can be used instead of cold water if you are suffering from sensitivity when you brush your teeth. It is important that sensitivity does not prevent you from brushing your teeth every day as this will aggravate the problem.
Should I visit my dentist?
If you have been trying to treat your teeth for several weeks and there has been no improvement, make an appointment to visit your dentist. The dentist will be able to identify the cause and recommend a proper course of action:
- In some cases, specialist products for de-sensitising the teeth may be recommended to relieve painful symptoms.
- The teeth can also be treated by applying fluoride gels, varnishes or rinses.
- Protection can be formed by painting these products onto the affected teeth during appointments every one or two weeks.
- If there is still no relief the dentist may cover any exposed dentin by filling or sealing the area where the gum and tooth meet.
- In some instances, the tooth may need to be root-filled.
Can sensitive teeth be prevented?
The best way to prevent sensitive teeth is to follow these simple tips:
- Use fluoride toothpaste to brush your teeth twice every day. A toothbrush with soft or medium bristles should be used and it is best to brush with small circular motions rather than from side to side.
- Toothbrushes should be changed every three months, or may need to be replaced sooner if they become worn.
- Try to cut down on sugary foods and acidic drinks.
- If you do grind your teeth make an appointment with your dentist to discuss the possibility of wearing a mouthguard at night.
- If you are considering tooth bleaching make sure you ask your dentist about sensitivity prior to treatment.
- Get a check-up from your dentist at least once every year.