Tooth sensitivity is when people feel a sudden pain in one or more teeth that is triggered by hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods and drinks.
Many things can cause tooth sensitivity from injury to dental disease, which can destroy tooth pulp.
Sometimes people can cause tooth sensitivity by grinding their teeth or clamping their jaws tightly shut. This type of sensitivity isn't something to worry about if it happens once or twice and goes away in a day or two. But when it persists, there could be a break, crack, or decayed tooth that should be seen by a dentist.
The most common cause of tooth sensitivity is exposed dentin, which is hardened tissue that is beneath the tooth's enamel and contains tiny nerves. When these nerves are exposed, hot, cold, sweet or sour food can reach the nerve in your tooth, resulting in pain.
Exposed dentin can be caused by various factors including: brushing too hard, a hard-bristled toothbrush, tooth decay near the gum line, recession of the gums, cracked teeth, gum disease (gingivitis or periodontics), teeth grinding, plaque build-up, long-term use of teeth whitening products, acidic foods and recent dental procedures.
The good news is that tooth sensitivity can be avoided with some easy-to-follow steps that everyone can do.
Follow proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
Use a soft bristled toothbrush when brushing your teeth (run your toothbrush under hot water to help soften it). By using this type of brush there will be less harsh abrasion to the tooth surface and less irritation to your gums. Be sure to brush gently.
Use desensitizing toothpaste, which should cause a decrease in tooth and gum sensitivity. Ask a dentist to recommend the brands that will work best for you.
Put a thin layer of fluoridated toothpaste on the exposed tooth roots before you go to bed. Make sure you do not use tartar-control toothpaste to do this.
Cut down on eating highly acid foods, which can gradually dissolve tooth enamel and lead to dentin exposure. These foods may also irritate any current tooth sensitivity.
Daily use of a fluoridated mouth rinse can also decrease tooth sensitivity. Ask your dentist about available products for home use.
If you grind or clench your teeth, use a mouth guard at night.
See your dentist every six months (or more). Get professional tooth cleaning, oral hygiene instructions and fluoride treatments every six months.
A dentist can use white fillings, fluoride varnishes and dentin sealers to cover exposed root surfaces.
Remember, tooth sensitivity may be normal for a couple of days, but if it goes on for long periods of time, it could be a sign of a serious problem that needs to be addressed. That’s when you need to see a dentist. There is no reason to suffer in silence.