Dental Care

Teeth Sensitivity and Solutions

 

Teeth sensitivity is a common problem. You might be surprised to learn that about 10 million American adults suffer from chronically sensitive teeth.  They experience significant pain when their teeth are exposed to hot, cold, sweet or sour liquids or foods.

The pain experienced with one or more sensitive teeth is typically sudden and sharp, and it feels as though it shoots all the way down to the nerve endings of your teeth.  In fact, the pain can be so severe that routine daily activities such as eating, drinking and brushing the teeth become agonizing chores.

Causes

Several things can be responsible for teeth sensitivity, but gum recession is one of the most common causes. 

Teeth are made of several substances, including a porous material called dentin.  The dentin of healthy teeth is protected by a hard outer layer of enamel and the gums (not enamel) protect the roots of the teeth like a blanket. 

Thousands of microscopic channels (called "dentinal tubules") connect the dentin and the nerve center within the tooth's pulp by passing through the tooth's root.  When the gums recede (caused by gingivitis or periodontal disease, for example), the dentinal tubules can become exposed, allowing stimuli such as hot, sweet, sour and cold to reach the tooth's nerve and trigger a strong shooting pain. 

Allowing plaque to accumulate around the teeth and gums because of poor oral hygiene permits the bacteria living within the plaque to cause gum disease and receding gums.

Erosion

Enamel erosion can also cause sensitive teeth. 

Brushing too forcefully or using a toothbrush with stiff bristles can not only wear down the tooth enamel, it can cause the loss of gum tissue. 

Both effects can expose the tooth's roots over time.  Dentists report that two out of three people use excessive force when they brush their teeth. 

Habitually grinding or clenching the teeth can have a similar erosive effect, wearing down the tooth enamel over the course of time.  And, when consumed regularly, highly acidic foods and beverages such as pickles, tomatoes, citrus fruits and tea can also erode tooth enamel. 

Certain types of dental procedures, including teeth cleaning, root planing, filling cavities and installing crowns, can all result in temporary tooth sensitivity.  Fortunately, sensitivity caused by a dental procedure typically disappears within four to six weeks afterward.

Saliva

We're all familiar with the saliva that normally flows throughout the mouth and around the teeth and the gums, but you might not realize that saliva plays an important role in your oral health. 

Under normal circumstances, the salivary glands secrete saliva in quantities that enable it to continuously bathe, cleanse and protect the teeth and gums. 

Under certain circumstances, however, the salivary glands produce a reduced amount of saliva, robbing the teeth and gums of these important benefits.  Inadequate saliva can, among other things, result in teeth sensitivity. 

You can perform an easy test to determine whether your salivary glands are producing enough saliva:  simply invert your lower lip, dry it off and then time how long it takes for small droplets of saliva to begin appearing there.  Your saliva flow is reduced if it takes longer than a minute.

In addition to those discussed above, other factors that can cause teeth sensitivity include the following:

  • Using toothpaste that includes baking soda and peroxide, or using tooth whitening products. Both are bleaching agents and big contributors to problems with sensitive teeth.
  • Long-term use of certain over-the-counter mouthwashes. Some contain acids that can make your teeth more sensitive if your dentin is exposed. These acids can also cause additional damage to the tooth's dentin.
  • Chipped, cracked or broken teeth. Bacteria from plaque may fill the damaged areas and from there enter the tooth's pulp, resulting in inflammation and increased sensitivity.

High Sensitive People and Oral Health

Interestingly, people who are hypersensitive to light, smells, sounds, flavors and touch typically also have sensitive teeth.  It's as if all their senses are heightened beyond normal levels. 

For most people, however, keeping the gums healthy is an important part of preventing sensitive teeth. 

Reduce the pressure you exert while you're brushing, use a toothbrush with soft bristles and practice an effective daily oral hygiene regimen which includes brushing your teeth after every meal and flossing at least daily.

 

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