Tooth sensitivity is caused by the gradual exposure of the softer part of your tooth that lies under the tooth enamel, called “dentine”. Dentine has tiny tubes (‘tubules’) that are filled with fluid.
Eating or drinking foods and drinks that are hot, cold or sweet can cause this fluid to move. This fluid movement causes the nerve endings in your teeth to react in response, triggering a twinge of discomfort or a short, sharp pain.
Some of the most common dental conditions that can cause sensitive teeth include:
Brushing Too Hard
Dental hygiene habits such as brushing too frequently, too vigorously or with a hard-bristled toothbrush can eventually wear down tooth enamel. These can also cause receding gums, causing further exposure of the dentine.
Gum Disease (Gingivitis)
When gum tissue becomes inflamed and weakened from gingivitis (gum disease), you may feel tooth sensitivity because more of the underlying dentine root surface is exposed.
If you teeth grind when you sleep, or if you clench your teeth throughout the day, you may be wearing down enamel and exposing the underlying dentine layer of your tooth.
A receding gum can expose the dentine and create sensitive areas.
Understanding Your Teeth, Your Enamel and Sensitive Teeth
When the dentine on your tooth is exposed, it is the cause of regular or occasional tooth sensitivity.
Dentine lies just below the enamel. Thousands of microscopic tubes run through the dentine. Once dentine is exposed, it may become susceptible to triggers such as cold food or drinks resulting in a short, sharp nerve pain in the tooth.
“Dentine hypersensitivity” or sensitive teeth, is the pain you feel when you stimulate the exposed dentine of the tooth.
Are Your Teeth Sensitive to Cold Food? Are your teeth sensitive to hot and cold foods?
A range of ‘triggers’ or stimuli can cause the discomfort or pain of sensitive teeth: Highly acidic food, cold air, hot drinks, cold drinks or ice cream are the most common external stimuli that can trigger teeth sensitivity.
Different people have different tooth sensitivity experiences, and the type of pain can range in severity, frequency and duration.
Some people can even experience tooth sensitivity when brushing their teeth, particularly if rinsing with cold water.
Learn How to Treat Sensitive Teeth. If your teeth are sensitive, there are several simple but important steps you can take today to treat sensitive teeth.
- Practice good oral hygiene, including proper brushing and flossing, to help keep teeth and gums healthy.
- Use sensitive toothpaste like Sensodyne or Colgate Pro- Relief to relieve the pain of sensitive teeth.
- Don’t brush too hard or more frequently than your dentist recommends.
- Use a softer toothbrush, preferably one suitable for people with sensitive teeth.
- Take care while consuming acidic foods that can wear away tooth enamel, such as fruit juices, wine, vinegar salad dressings and soft drinks.
- Use fluoridated dental products, including toothpaste and mouthwash, to help strengthen enamel.
- Avoid grinding your teeth or clenching during the day. Ask your dentist about a mouth guard for nighttime use.
- See your dentist regularly for professional tooth cleaning, dental care recommendations and advice on treating your sensitive teeth.
A Sign of Something More Serious?
Can My Dentist Do Anything for Sensitive Teeth?
In order to be sure your tooth sensitivity is not the result of a more serious condition, such as gingivitis (gum disease), it’s a good idea to make an appointment for a checkup and dentist recommendations for sensitive teeth.
More Than Just a Discomfort?
While they can be quite annoying, sensitive teeth symptoms are rarely much more than a discomfort.
Often, making simple changes such as adopting better oral hygiene habits, using toothpaste for sensitive teeth, cutting down on acidic foods in your diet and brushing less vigorously can make all the difference.
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