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Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Solutions

Sensitivity in your teeth is an extremely common problem that at least 40 million adults suffer from. The good and bad news is that no one is immune to this problem—it can happen to anyone, but that also means there are a lot of treatment options available. If you often feel sharp and sudden pain in your teeth when they’re exposed to cold air or cold or hot foods, you may have sensitive teeth.

Causes

In healthy teeth, your enamel protects the underlying layer of dentin, which is softer and more sensitive than your enamel. Your gums are the line of defense for the roots of your teeth. If the enamel is worn down, or if your gum line is receding, this can leave your dentin exposed to outside elements. Cavities, cracked teeth, gum recession as well as enamel and root erosion all cause dentin to be exposed, and because dentin is what’s connected to the nerve endings in your teeth, this results in pain.

The dentin in your teeth contains thousands of microscopic tubules, or channels, leading to the tooth’s pulp. When exposed, these tubules allow almost anything to reach the nerves inside your teeth—heat, cold, acidic or even sticky substances. Some of the most common factors that contribute to tooth sensitivity are:

  • Brushing too hard or using a toothbrush with hard bristles
    • This wears on your enamel over time
  • Gum recession
  • Gingivitis
    • This can expose the tooth’s root
  • Cracked teeth
    • They become filled with bacteria from plaque, and cause inflammation
  • Teeth grinding or clenching
    • This wears on your enamel over time as well
  • Plaque buildup
  • Long-term mouthwash use
    • Many over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acid
  • Acidic foods
    • These actively encourage enamel reduction
  • Intense dental procedures
    • Teeth may be extra sensitive after a professional cleaning, root planting, crown replacement etc.
  • Teeth whitening
    • Both in-office and at-home teeth whitening treatments contain harsh chemicals to remove stains, but these can affect your enamel

Solutions

While you can reduce your symptoms, this problem will never go away unless you address the root problem. There are several treatment options available, and each dentist will have their preferences and suggestions specifically for you. There’s no single treatment option that works for everyone, so consult your dentist to come up with a plan to address your specific problem.

There are several at-home solutions you can try that will significantly decrease your sensitivity. You can try using a desensitizing toothpaste—be sure to use fluoridated toothpaste, and avoid tartar-control toothpaste. Spread a thin layer of it on any exposed tooth roots you have before going to bed. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush your teeth gently. Try to avoid highly acidic foods, use a fluoridated mouthwash daily and avoid teeth grinding. If you grind your teeth at night, consider getting a mouth guard to protect your enamel.

As far as dental procedures, bonding, crowns or inlays may fix a tooth flaw or decay you’re having that’s causing your sensitivity. If your gum line is the issue, a surgical gum graft could protect your tooth roots. If you’ve tried everything and nothing has helped, a root canal should be your last resort.

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, you don’t have to live with it. Talk to your dentist as soon as you can and start working toward a solution together.

For more advice or to make an appointment, contact LeCroy Dental today.