Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common dental complaints that patients have. According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), approximately 40 million adults in the United States experience tooth sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the protective outer layer of tooth enamel thins, or when the gums recede leaving the dentin or root of the tooth exposed. Sensitivity can affect one or more teeth. The sensation can feel like a chill or sensitivity in the teeth, or even as severe as sharp pain.
It’s most common to feel sensitivity from eating or drinking hot, cold, sweet or sour foods. Many people experience sensitivity from eating cold foods like ice cream or popsicles. In cases of extreme sensitivity, you may feel sensation from something as light as breathing in cold air.
Causes of tooth sensitivity
Your teeth may be sensitive for a number of reasons. Read about several of the causes of tooth sensitivity below:
- Tooth decay that thins the tooth enamel
- Eroded tooth enamel from brushing with a hard toothbrush or brushing too aggressively
- Erosion of tooth enamel from frequent consumption of acidic foods and beverages
- Grinding your teeth, a condition called bruxism
- Gum recession that leaves the root of the tooth exposed
- Worn or lose fillings, crowns or bridges that leave the dentin in the interior of the tooth exposed
- Use of whitening products including gels, strips, lights and pastes
- Enamel erosion from acid reflux or bulimia
- In some cases, temporary sensitivity after dental work like bridges and crowns
What to do if you feel sensitivity
Sensitivity that emanates from a tooth that has had dental work, like a filling or crown, can signal a leak or crack in the restoration and needs repair. Moreover not attending to cavities or gum disease can cause sensitivity in and around the teeth. Both of these cases require an exam, x-rays and treatment from your dentist.
You may notice increased sensitivity from recent use of tooth whitening products. Overuse of whitening products is a common issue amongst dental patients, as millions of people strive to achieve a celebrity-white smile. Always follow proper use instructions and discontinue use if you continue to feel increased sensitivity.
Your daily diet can also affect your teeth. Consuming highly acidic foods, as well as beverages like sodas and coffee can quickly erode your tooth enamel and cause sensitivity. Drinking water while you consume these foods and beverages can help neutralize the acid.
There are special toothpastes and mouth washes that can help reduce the sensitivity. Your dentist can recommend a product to provide you comfort.
While causes of tooth sensitivity may be temporary, other causes may not resolve without examination and treatment. If you notice sensitivity, in particular sharp pain or sensitivity that last longer than a few days, it is important to schedule an appointment to see your dentist.