All About Sensitive Teeth

Cartoon of sensitive tooth
Hot and cold food can often trigger sharp pains in teeth. Is this a serious concern?

It’s hard to forget the “ouch factor” associated with a sensitive tooth! It can be extremely jarring to bite into something hot or cold and feel a painful shockwave go through the nerves of your teeth. If you have experienced this, you are definitely not alone. Tooth sensitivity is so common that between 10% and 30% of people worldwide experience it on a regular basis. While it’s easy to dismiss once the pain has subsided, taking the time to understand why your teeth are sensitive is important.

Dentin Hypersensitivity

Dentin hypersensitivity is the clinical term for recurring pain caused by exposed dentin (the hard layer of tissue underneath the enamel). Research describes the sensation of dentin hypersensitivity as a “a short, sharp pain that arises from exposed dentin in response to stimuli” — usually hot or cold foods. Dentin consists of a network of tubes that go all the way to the nerves inside the tooth, so when the tubes are vulnerable to outside stimuli, the pain travels to the nerve center. In other cases, receding gum tissue causes the actual roots of the teeth to be exposed.

How can dentin become exposed?

There are a number of reasons how these things can happen, including:

  • Cavities
  • Excess abrasion
  • Gum disease
  • Bruxism (tooth grinding)
  • Broken or cracked tooth
  • Old dental work

Should I be worried about my sensitive teeth?

The only times that the sudden pain of tooth sensitivity should not be worrisome is if you are recovering from recent dental work or are in the process of orthodontic treatment. In these cases, some sensitivity will inevitably happen as the positions of your teeth are being constantly adjusted, but this type of pain should go away and is not cause for concern. If the culprit is dentin or root exposure, the shooting pain is acting as a warning sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

What steps should I take?

The first course of action should always be to schedule a dentist appointment, where we can examine your teeth and gums and pinpoint what the issue is. If a tooth is broken or decayed, tooth restoration will provide relief, and if it’s gum disease that is not yet advanced, professional cleaning and improved oral hygiene is the best treatment plan. Bonding agents and fluoride treatments can also be done in-office to protect the dentin and strengthen the enamel.

If you have already visited the dentist and ensured that professional treatment is not necessary, these at-home measures provide some great ways to prevent tooth sensitivity from happening in the future:

  1. Brush and floss regularly. For so many reasons, the basics of oral care cannot be neglected. These are your best defenses against decay and gum disease, which both cause extreme sensitivity.
  2. Eat low-acidity foods. Acid wears down enamel and exposes dentin, so try to minimize your consumption of acidic foods and drinks. Always remember that sugar turns into acid in your mouth, so reducing the amount of sugar you eat is important as well.
  3. Chew sugar-free gum. Gum (as long as it doesn’t contain sugar) stimulates saliva production, which strengthens your teeth. Dry mouth is the enemy when it comes to protecting enamel.
  4. Use the right toothpaste. Certain toothpastes are made specifically for sensitive teeth and fortified with fluoride. Ask us in-office about which toothpaste would be the best for you.
  5. Use a soft toothbrush. Brushing with hard bristles and too much force is very damaging for your teeth and will quickly wear down enamel. The key is to use soft-bristles and brush gently for the full amount of time (2 minutes).

Tooth sensitivity does not have to become a normal part of your life. There is always a reason why you are experiencing pain in your teeth, so call our office and schedule an exam! Whatever the case may be, there is a treatment plan for you that will provide relief. Strong teeth and gums are important for everyone to have, so don’t let a sensitive tooth get in the way of total dental health.