The pain of sensitive teeth can range from a slight twinge to a severe discomfort that can last for hours. If you're a sufferer, here are the facts about what causes sensitive teeth, how to reduce your symptoms, and when the sensitivity could be a sign of something more serious.
Why are my teeth sensitive?
The part of the tooth that is typically exposed is covered with a hard enamel, protecting the sensitive area below. If the enamel becomes worn or gum tissue recedes and exposes the underlying layer, or dentin, hot, cold, sweet or sour food, and even cold air can reach the nerve and cause a sharp and sudden pain. It typically affects people between the age of 20 and 40, although people of any age can suffer, and women are more likely to experience sensitivity than men.
What causes sensitive teeth?
A variety of factors can lead to sensitive teeth, including dental erosion, gum disease, and damage to the tooth itself.
Erosion may occur over time, for instance, if you brush too hard with a hard toothbrush, gradually wearing down the enamel and leaving the dentin exposed. Tooth grinding or whitening products which contain baking soda or peroxide can also cause problems, as can frequent consumption of highly acidic foods such as citrus fruits, pickles and even tea.
Gum disease, known as gingivitis, and periodontal disease that causes the gums to recede will tend to expose the root and lead to sensitivity. If you have a cracked tooth, you may experience sensitivity when exposed to hot or cold temperatures, and dental procedures such as cleaning, crown placement and restoration can also mean you are more likely to feel pain associated with sensitivity, although the effects are usually temporary.
How can I reduce the symptoms?
Good oral hygiene is key to preventing sensitive teeth, and that means brushing and flossing twice a day, using a toothpaste containing at least 1350 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride and a soft or medium-bristled brush. You should change your brush every two to three months - sooner if it becomes worn, and visit your dentist regularly for a check up.
If you are prone to sensitive teeth, try cutting back on sugary and acidic foods and drinks, which can eat away at the enamel leaving the dentin exposed. A toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth may also help, and if you are frequently struck with the problem, try to avoid very hot or cold drinks, and consider brushing your teeth in warm water.
What if the pain continues?
If you have tried treating your sensitive teeth for a few weeks to no avail, it may be time to visit the dentist. They may be able to suggest or prescribe special desensitising products, such as fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes that can be applied, often requiring regular appointments every one or two weeks to build up protection.
In some cases your dentist may decide that a seal around the neck of the tooth, the gum line, is the best way to keep the dentin safely covered, although in severe cases, root canal surgery, where the nerve is effectively removed, may be the best option.
And if teeth grinding is your particular problem, a mouth guard may be all that's needed to prevent further damage.
Do you suffer with sensitive teeth? What have you found eases your symptoms? Leave your comments below...