Tooth Sensitivity: Why it Happens and What Are Your Options
Sensitive teeth are a common complaint. Over 40 million Americans experience the symptoms of sensitive teeth in their lifetime. These symptoms often include sharp pain when the teeth are exposed to cold, heat, acidic, or very sweet foods. You may also experience sensitivity after brushing and flossing. Understanding why your teeth are sensitive, and what your treatment options are puts you on the road to reducing sensitivity and the pain associated with this condition.
Why Teeth Are Sensitive
Your teeth are covered in a hard substance called enamel. This protects the softer dentin just below the tooth’s surface. If the enamel becomes damaged or is worn down, then the dentin is exposed. Dentin contains microscopic channels known as tubules which lead to the inner pulp of the tooth. If the dentin is exposed these tubules allow cold, heat, sweet, and acidic substances to reach the nerves inside the tooth causing pain.
The enamel of your teeth may be worn down by acidic foods, brushing too vigorously with a hard bristle toothbrush, and grinding or clenching your teeth. Even the long term use of some over the counter mouthwashes can contribute to the erosion of enamel.
Another cause of sensitive teeth is receding or damaged gums. Gingivitis, inflammation and infection of the gums, is one of the major causes of receding gums and sensitive teeth. The gums protect the root of the tooth and if this protection is gone, then the root is exposed and may cause pain when exposed to certain foods or extreme temperature changes. Cavities and cracked teeth also put you at risk for the pain caused by sensitive teeth.
Treatment for Sensitive Teeth
The good news is treatment for sensitive teeth is available. Your dentist will discuss your options based on your particular case, and decide which treatment is best for you. Your dentist may choose to apply a sealant to the enamel of your teeth to prevent further erosion. You may also be prescribed a desensitizing tooth paste and given a soft bristle toothbrush to be used daily at home along with a fluoridated mouthwash. A mouth guard may also be prescribed to help prevent grinding and clenching your teeth in your sleep. You may also want to avoid highly acidic or sweet foods to prevent sensitivity and pain.
Other treatment options include placement of crowns, inlays, or bonding to repair and protect cracked teeth. A fluoride gel or varnish may be applied to the teeth to strengthen and protect the enamel. If your gums have eroded your dentist may perform a surgical gum graft to protect the tooth’s root and reduce sensitivity. If none of these treatments help to reduce sensitivity, or your sensitivity is severe, your dentist may perform a root canal.
Sensitive teeth are painful and can hinder your enjoyment of certain foods. During the winter you may experience pain caused by cold air as well as drinking very hot beverages. While tooth sensitivity is painful, there are treatment options available to you. Visit your dentist if you experience pain associated with sensitivity and ask which treatment is best for you. There is no reason to suffer, your dentist has several options of treatment available to him or her.