Do you feel an almost painful chill in your teeth as you enjoy a lick of an ice cream cone? You’re not alone! Among one of the most common complaints from dental patients is tooth sensitivity. In fact one out of eight adults suffer from sensitive teeth regularly. There are a number of factors that can cause teeth to become sensitive. Check out these 8 facts about the causes, symptoms and how to stop symptoms of sensitive teeth.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
In general, sensitivity across all or most teeth can stem from weakened enamel or from exposure of the roots of the teeth. Sensitivity originating from only one tooth can signal a crack, fracture or decay in the tooth. Sensitivity can also follow a dental procedure like a filling or crown, or a restoration that has become broken, lose or missing.
One of the most common reasons that people feel sensitivity is because of receding gums or gum disease, both which leave the sensitive roots of the teeth exposed. Moreover, activities such as brushing too hard or eating acidic foods can weaken enamel and cause sensitivity. Tooth grinding (bruxism) also wears down the surface of the teeth and enamel. Teeth whitening is a common cause of sensitivity because the product also can affect the dentin of the teeth and can rub off on the gums.
Why are teeth sensitive all of a sudden?
There are a variety of reasons that teeth can become sensitive “all of a sudden”, starting with whether the sensitivity is emanating from one tooth or several. When tooth sensitivity arises suddenly, the point of origin defines the cause and treatment for the sensation.
Professional and over-the-counter teeth whitening procedures are a big culprit of sensitive teeth because these products can temporarily cause teeth to feel sensitive. A broken or lose crown or filling can cause instant tooth sensitivity.
Sudden sensitivity can also be triggered by stress or constant clenching or tooth grinding. Sinus pressure has been linked to sensitivity in the teeth. Furthermore acidic changes in diet, for example consuming more soda or coffee for a period of time, can affect tooth enamel.
Teeth sensitivity to hot or cold
Often teeth will feel normal until eating or drinking something hot or cold, during which you may notice a chill, shooting sensation or sensitivity through the teeth. Sensitivity to both hot and cold temperature is common and can happen when the enamel of the tooth is thin enough for the dentin inside the tooth to be exposed. A loose crown or filling can also create sensitivity. Application of sensitivity gel or use of special products can alleviate sensitivity.
How to whiten sensitive teeth
Can you whiten sensitive teeth? Yes, but gently. Whitening products can cause temporary teeth sensitivity. Applying a desensitizing gel can help alleviate some of the discomfort caused by sensitive teeth. For the time that you are using the whitening products avoid foods and drinks with sugar, acid or color since the tooth enamel is already in a compromised state. Moreover, always follow proper instructions while using any at-home whitening and be sure not to over-use or abuse products. Talk with your dentist about the use of whitening products at your next visit, he or she can create- custom whitening trays or can recommend a gentle whitening product that suits your oral health.
Sensitive teeth and braces
Many braces-wearers may feel sensitivity or discomfort after having braces tightened, however this sensation should resolve after a few days. Ongoing pain or sensitivity while wearing braces could be a sign that you aren’t cleaning your teeth properly. Braces can cause thinning of enamel or gumline when you aren’t cleaning thoroughly enough around the brackets, and particularly around the back molars. Other signs that you may not be brushing well enough include bad breath, bleeding gums or unexplained tooth pain. Check with your orthodontist if you experience sensitivity or other symptoms that don’t resolve after a few days.
How to treat sensitive teeth
Diagnosis of the cause is the only way to properly treat the symptoms. Your dentist will help determine the cause of the sensitivity, first through examination and x-rays. If you are experiencing sensitivity because of a topical issue such as overly-consuming acidic foods and drinks, or use of whitening products it may be advised to ease off of these activities.
Treatment for clenching or grinding the teeth can vary. Drinking high levels of caffeine can cause grinding or clenching, so your dentist may advise cutting back on stimulants. Stress-management techniques such as breathing, therapy, yoga or meditation can help alleviate physical manifestations of stress (such as teeth grinding). Wearing a mouth guard overnight can help reduce impact and protect the surface of the teeth from grinding.
Treating symptoms of gum disease or receded gums first requires treatment for any infection in the gums. A deep dental cleaning consisting of root scaling and planning removes built up plaque and tartar from around the gum line. In severe cases of infection, the dentist may also prescribe an antibiotic. Gum grafting is a procedure that replaces lost gum tissue, tissue that will not regrow naturally once it has been lost.
There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription mouthwashes and toothpastes that alleviate the sensation of teeth whitening.
When to see a dentist for sensitive teeth
If your teeth are noticeably more sensitive, if you feel a sharp or shooting tooth pain, or if your sensitivity persists, do not wait to make an appointment with the dentist. As with any oral health condition, it’s important to not wait to see a professional.
In the case that sensitivity is caused by a cracked or decayed tooth, it’s best not to wait to have the tooth professionally cleaned and sealed, or you risk developing an infection. Similarly, symptoms of gum disease or receding gums should not be ignored; as the gums pull away the teeth can become lose.
In many case, the dentist can also prescribe a prescription mouthwash and special toothpaste that alleviate sensitivity. The dentist can also readjust or repair broken dental restorations that are causing tooth sensitivity.