Underneath the enamel of your teeth is a layer of tissue called dentin. Within the dentin are tiny tubules that normally remain protected by the enamel. When enamel wears down, exposed tubules in the dentin allow substances to stimulate the nerve cells deep within the tooth, and the result is sensitivity or pain.
Teeth Can Look Terrific, But Still Be Sensitive
Receding gums or worn tooth enamel allow exposure of these sensitive surfaces. Sometimes this happens slowly, and sensitivity increases gradually. Eventually, however, it's difficult to ignore. Here's what you should know about causes of sensitive teeth and how to know when it's time to see your dentist about tooth sensitivity.
Common Causes of Sensitive Teeth
Brushing teeth too forcefully, particularly with a hard-bristled toothbrush, can lead to tooth sensitivity by scrubbing away some of the enamel surface. Additionally, some people with sensitive teeth find some toothpastes to be overly abrasive and associated with increased sensitivity.
A common habit that can increase tooth sensitivity is drinking carbonated soft drinks throughout the day. Switching to sugar-free sodas only helps so much, however, because even without added sugar, sodas are acidic and hard on teeth. Diet sodas are somewhat less acidic than regular sodas, but they can still damage tooth enamel, making teeth more vulnerable to sugars in other foods and drinks. Acidic foods like lemons, tomatoes, and grapefruit can also lead to tooth sensitivity.
Trauma to teeth that causes teeth to chip or crack can lead to sensitivity, or straight-up pain. When fillings weaken and allow decay around the edges, acid buildup and enamel breakdown can result, causing increased sensitivity in the area of the filling. Fortunately, fillings can usually be easily replaced.
Overzealous Tooth Whitening Can Increase Sensitivity
Everyone wants a bright smile, but overuse of tooth whitening products can make teeth more sensitive. Whitening products containing hydrogen peroxide can penetrate even strong enamel, causing irritation to the dentin underneath. This type of sensitivity is usually reversible as long as you follow product instructions about how often they can be used. It's also a good idea to skip a day of whitening if your teeth feel more sensitive after using your whitening products.
If you're committed to using whitening products, always follow the instructions, and hedge your bets by cutting out processed sugars and acidic foods. Regularly rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash can strengthen your enamel as well. You may find seeing your dentist for a custom whitening kit to be a better route to a bright smile, because dentists have custom kits that are designed to minimize discomfort and sensitivity while safely whitening your teeth.
Your dentist can whiten your teeth safely while protecting against sensitivity.
When Should You See a Dentist About Sensitive Teeth?
Sudden or overnight sensitivity that makes you cringe should be seen. You could have a cracked or damaged tooth that needs the attention of your dentist. If teeth are sensitive to both heat and cold, particularly if it has been going on for more than a few days, it's time to call your dentist. In some cases, a sensitive tooth is the only clue that there is a cavity or even an abscess that's not yet visible. And if your sensitive teeth keep you from enjoying food or interfere with daily life, you definitely should see your dentist.
How Dentists Treat Tooth Sensitivity
While there are toothpastes for sensitive teeth sold over the counter, sometimes these aren't enough to keep sensitivity under control. Your dentist will determine what is causing your tooth sensitivity, and the cause will help him or her determine the best course of treatment. It may include a prescription toothpaste for sensitive teeth, applying special gels to sensitive teeth, or repairing fillings that have broken down and cause sensitivity.
New treatments for sensitive teeth may be on the horizon as well. Sub-micron silica particles with special surface coatings can deliver treatments to the dentin of the teeth that increase mineral components of the dentin and enamel, promoting repair that closes the exposed tiny tubules that make teeth sensitive. Dental researchers are currently determining the best way to coat these particles for tooth repair.
Advantage Dental+ understands the special needs of sensitive teeth, and we understand that many people feel anxiety seeing their dentist. Find a location near you, and let's talk about solving your dental problems with care and concern to improve your life quality.