Why Do I Have Sensitive Teeth?

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Ever taken a lick of ice cream or sipped a cold slushie only to hold the side of your jaw in pain? This is a tell-tale sign of having sensitive teeth. Drinking or eating certain types of foods and making certain jaw movements can trigger tooth sensitivity. However, symptoms of sensitive teeth can be attributed to a greater underlying issue with your dental health.

What Are The Symptoms Of Sensitive Teeth?

Sensitive teeth can cause discomfort or pain when consuming hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods and drinks, or even when breathing in cold air. The symptoms of sensitive teeth can vary from person to person, but some common signs include sharp pain and difficulty eating or drinking something hot, cold, sweet or acidic, pain or discomfort when brushing or flossing teeth, throbbing pain in the affected teeth and a cold tingly feeling inside your tooth.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

There can be several possible causes of sensitive teeth.

  • Enamel erosion: The enamel is the hard, protective outer layer of the tooth. When it gets worn down or eroded, it can expose the more sensitive layer of the tooth underneath, called dentin.
  • Gum recession: When the gums pull away from the tooth, it can expose the roots, which are not covered by enamel and are therefore more sensitive. This can be caused by gingivitis, periodontal disease or tooth decay.
  • Overbrushing: Brushing your teeth too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear away the enamel and cause sensitivity. Brushing the teeth for too long or too many times a day could also be abrasive to your teeth. 
  • Tooth decay or cavities: When a cavity forms, it can cause sensitivity as it develops closer to the nerve of the tooth.
  • Dental procedures: Teeth whitening, fillings and extractions can sometimes cause temporary sensitivity. Scaling and polishing of teeth or deep cleaning procedures may also expose the roots of the teeth temporarily and cause sensitivity.
  • Grinding or clenching: Also known as bruxism, the habit of clenching and grinding your teeth may wear down tooth enamel over time and cause sensitivity.
  • Acidic or sugary foods and drinks: Consuming too many acidic or sugary foods and drinks can cause enamel erosion and tooth decay. This can lead to sensitive teeth.
  • Harsh toothpaste or mouthwash: There are a variety of over-the-counter toothpastes and mouthwashes, some of which are not recommended by dentists. These products can contain harsh chemicals and strip your teeth of their natural protective enamel.
  • Home tooth whitening remedies: Some over-the-counter tooth whitening remedies have high concentrations of peroxides which can be harmful to your teeth. However, even dental whitening in your dentist's room can make your teeth feel sensitive for some time after the procedure is performed. 

If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, it is important to consult with a dentist to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

Can Sensitive Teeth Be Serious?

While not all cases of tooth sensitivity are serious, having symptoms of sensitive teeth can be a sign of a serious underlying condition. It could be a sign of gum disease or indicate that your tooth is cracked or infected. Therefore all cases of tooth sensitivity should be investigated by your dentist before it develops into a serious oral health issue.

How Can Sensitive Teeth Be Treated?

The treatment for tooth sensitivity depends on the underlying cause of sensitivity. Some common treatments may include:

Desensitising toothpaste: These kinds of toothpaste contain compounds that help block sensitivity. This includes over-the-counter brands like Sensodyne toothpaste. They also contain high fluoride levels to reduce tooth decay as a potential cause of the sensitivity.

Fluoride products: There are fluoride gels or varnishes which can be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth to help strengthen the enamel and reduce sensitivity. These products contain high levels of fluoride.

Dental procedures: If the sensitivity is caused by a tooth fracture or a cavity, a dental bonding or crown may be placed to protect the exposed area. For lesser forms of sensitivity or caries, once cleaned, fillings may be applied to a tooth. If a nerve is exposed or the pulp of a tooth is infected, your dentist may perform a root canal to prevent further damage to the tooth and reduce sensitivity.

Gum graft surgery: If gum recession is causing the sensitivity, a gum graft may be recommended to cover the exposed roots of your teeth and thereby reduce sensitivity.

It is important to consult with a dental professional who will perform an X-ray to determine the best treatment option for your specific case of tooth sensitivity.

Can Tooth Sensitivity Be Managed At Home?

It’s not advised to ignore tooth sensitivity or treat it at home, without first consulting a dentist. The cause of your sensitivity could be greater than you perceive and only a professional dental examination can determine the best treatment for it. 

It is always important to maintain good dental hygiene, but most home remedies such as gargling with salt water and using over-the-counter desensitising toothpastes, won’t last long. Some can even worsen the condition. Any relief they provide is short-lived and you will soon be back to experiencing symptoms of sensitivity. Therefore, do not hesitate to contact your dentist for professional treatment.

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