Four Most Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Zingers. You’ve most likely experienced a few in your life. And we’re not talking about snarky remarks. We’re talking about that short sharp pain you can experience when biting into something cold, like a popsicle. Tooth sensitivity can also happen with sweet or hot foods, while biting down or chewing, or sometimes just breathing in.
Tooth sensitivity is caused by the gradual exposure of the softer part of your tooth called dentin. Dentin has tiny fluid filled tubes that lead to the tooth nerve. Eating or drinking things that are hot, cold or sweet can cause a change in fluid movement. This fluid movement causes a response in the nerve endings of the tooth, triggering a short, sharp pain.
Some tooth sensitivity is normal, but when does it turn into something of concern? According to Dr. Will Taylor, you should be checked out by a dentist when your tooth sensitivity becomes bothersome and more constant. There is definitely a problem if it starts to impede your eating or chewing habits.
The most common causes for bothersome tooth sensitivity that Dr. Taylor finds are tooth decay, receding gums, cracked or broken teeth and bruxism (teeth grinding).
When a tooth starts to decay, the enamel shield is broken allowing bacteria to penetrate and start to eat away at the tooth, causing a cavity. If a cavity goes deep enough it can penetrate not only into the dentin but eventually to the root of the tooth.The most common causes for tooth decay are poor oral hygiene and diet.
If the gums recede, the root of the tooth, which does not have a protective enamel coating, is exposed. Exposure of the root can cause sensitivity. You can have receding gums due to gum disease, or even from brushing your teeth too aggressively or from using a hard-bristled toothbrush.
Cracked or Broken Teeth
Dr. Taylor states that many patients come in complaining of tooth sensitivity only to learn one of their teeth is cracked or broken. A crack can be almost invisible to the human eye, but it is enough to expose the dentin of the tooth causing sensitivity to hot, cold, biting, and even air.
Another common cause for sensitive teeth is bruxism, which is when people grind their teeth. People who grind their teeth in their sleep or clench their teeth while awake not only run the risk of wearing down their tooth enamel exposing the tooth’s softer dentin, but also of cracking or breaking their teeth.
Treatment for Sensitive Teeth
Obviously, the treatment for having sensitive teeth is dependant upon the cause. If the reason is someone is brushing too aggressively or improperly, all they may need is instruction. It is not uncommon for patients to simply not know the proper way to brush to avoid damaging the gum tissue but still clean their teeth thoroughly.
Dr. Taylor also warns about using a hard bristled toothbrush. He recommends all his patients use a soft bristled electric toothbrush. Dr. Taylor finds the kind with a spinning head and a pressure shut off really aids his patients in brushing properly. Another recommendation Dr. Taylor gives for tooth sensitivity is using a toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth, such as Sensodyne.
If a patient suffers from bruxism and teeth grinding is the cause for the tooth sensitivity, Dr.Taylor most often recommends a night guard be worn to protect the tooth surfaces.
If the tooth is damaged due to decay or trauma, Dr. Taylor would discuss with his patient the best way to fix the compromised tooth. This could mean just filling a cavity or in more extreme cases might require a more involved treatment such as a root canal procedure. In the rare cases when the tooth is too compromised to be saved, extraction and replacement with a dental implant or dental bridge might be discussed.
Good oral hygiene is imperative to the health of your teeth/gums and to treat tooth sensitivity. This includes brushing and flossing teeth at least twice a day. It also means regular visits to your dentist for professional cleanings. Again, brushing teeth thoroughly but without too much force is imperative. Tooth sensitivity, like many dental issues, can be avoided altogether with good dental hygiene.