Having sensitive teeth can take the enjoyment out of your favourite hot or cold foods and drinks. It may just be one tooth that’s affected by sensitivities, several or all of them. The problem may be fleeting or chronic, and the sensitivity can be classified as mild, moderate or severe.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Sensitive teeth can be caused by a range of issues.
Gum Disease and Recession
One of the symptoms of periodontal disease (gum disease) is sensitive teeth. It occurs when the gum disease damages supporting soft tissue and bone so the root surface is exposed. Receding gums also leave teeth roots exposed. The roots don’t have the same enamel protection that the crown of the tooth has and direct communication to the nerves in the pulp of the tooth may be formed.
Any tooth that is damaged including being chipped, worn or cracked is likely to be sensitive because its protective coating has been disturbed. Teeth grinding can commonly cause excessive wear on teeth which then become susceptible to being sensitive. Dental work such as a filling or crown that is worn or damaged can also leave the nerves exposed and at risk of sensitivity.
When you have braces, there’s nothing more important than regular tooth brushing with the right technique. Brushing your teeth too hard at the gum line can damage the gum and root surface, causing sensitivity. A soft toothbrush and light touch is less likely to damage the teeth and gums.
Acidic Food and Drinks
Tooth surface loss can also be caused by the food and drinks you consume. Consuming high sugar and acidic foods on a regular basis attacks the enamel, making teeth more sensitive. It’s even more important to avoid soft drinks, orange juice, and sticky sweet foods when you have braces because it not only attacks the enamel but can cause white spots on your teeth when the braces are removed.
Decay causes the dentin of the tooth to be exposed. You’re more likely to feel localised tooth sensitivity at the site of the decay rather than all of your teeth, however the pulp (nerve) of the tooth may become infected and inflamed from the bacteria in the decay and make the tooth more sensitive to cold or hot things.
Bleaching & Whitening Toothpastes
It’s common for people to experience sensitive teeth after undergoing teeth whitening or bleaching at the dentist or at home. Even whitening toothpastes can cause sensitivity. The sensitivity usually reduces after several days of finishing a treatment or using whitening toothpaste.
Using any kind of teeth whitening or bleaching while wearing braces can lead to uneven shades of whiteness when the braces are removed. If you resist whitening your teeth while you have braces and wait until just after they’re removed, they will have a consistently bright colour.
Diagnosing Teeth Sensitivities
When a patient visits their dentist complaining of teeth sensitivity, the dentist will check for obvious causes during the examination. Your dentist will look for tooth decay, chipped or worn teeth, and fillings or crowns that are failing as well as exposed roots secondary to gum recession. A dental instrument may be used to touch each tooth to check for sensitivities and an x-ray may be used to reveal any cavities or problems below the gumline.
Treating Sensitive Teeth
There are a few different treatment options for sensitive teeth.
Desensitising toothpastes are available from the chemist or supermarket to help relieve sensitive teeth. Use the toothpaste twice a day in place of your usual toothpaste with a soft bristle toothbrush.
Some people with sensitive teeth have had success using an enamel booster product. The fluoride and calcium phosphate ingredients act as an enamel boosting gel.
Salt Water Rinses
Rinsing your mouth with salt water can alleviate the pain caused by sensitive teeth. Add ½ to ¾ teaspoon of salt to a small glass of lukewarm water and mix before holding the solution in your mouth for up to 30 seconds. Rinse after spitting out the salt water.
If your sensitive teeth are caused by grinding your teeth in your sleep, speak to your dentist about getting a night guard to protect the enamel on your teeth from being further worn away.
Treating Below the Gum
If you have gum problems related to bacteria and tartar(calculus) below the gum line, you will have a gum infection and loss of gum coverage/attachment to the tooth. You may need to see a dentist or periodontist to investigate if you have tartar that needs to be removed from the roots and instruction on maintaining healthy gums and teeth.
Tooth sensitivity is a complex issue with many possible contributing factors. If you’re concerned about sensitive teeth, contact us online or call your dentist to book an appointment.