Managing Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment Options

What’s better than ice cream on a hot summer day? Unless the coldness of the treat results in sharp, intense pain in your teeth. Then what?

It might be the effects of sensitive teeth. It’s unpleasant, but the good news is that tooth sensitivity is a warning, not necessarily a problem that can’t be solved. Your dentist can find the source of the problem and then educate you on how to manage it before any serious damage is done. 

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms and causes, as well as helpful tips for sensitive teeth.

Then, you can enjoy your ice cream cone!

What Are the Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity?

Of course, one of the most common and noticeable symptoms is pain with hot or cold liquids or foods. But, some other signs of enamel hypoplasia, more commonly referred to as tooth sensitivity, are more difficult to detect and you might not notice them until it’s too late to prevent bigger problems.

Watch for these symptoms so you can seek attention before too much damage is done:

  • Pits, groves, depressions, and fissures on the surface of a tooth.
  • White spots.
  • Yellowish-brown stains (which means the dentin is exposed).
  • Teeth that no longer make proper contact with matching upper or lower teeth. 
  • Irregular wearing of teeth.
  • Tooth decay and an increasing number of cavities.

Make an appointment with your dentist if you see any of these symptoms or experience sensitivity to hot or cold. Also, make sure your regular dental appointments for exams and cleanings are kept up to date. Preventative care is key.

Causes of Sensitive Teeth

To understand the cause of sensitive teeth, it’s first helpful to know what exactly makes up your teeth. Here is some basic information about the structure of teeth:

Structure of the Teeth

The ligament that connects the teeth to their sockets and provides stability in the jaw is called the periodontal ligament. Connective tissue called cementum forms along a tooth’s root and gives the tooth even more stability in the jawbone. This connective tissue also covers the dentin inside the tooth. Both the ligament and the connective tissue allow your teeth to withstand the pressure of chewing.

Now, let’s break down how the structure of teeth relates to sensitivity.

A tooth has three parts:

  1. The enamel refers to a tooth’s outer layer. It protects the inside of the tooth from staining and damage. This layer is the hardest substance in your body. However, it can’t repair itself or improve on its own because it doesn’t have any living cells. 
  2. The cementum is the calcified outer covering of a tooth’s root and helps attach the tooth to the jaw.
  3. The dentine is a large part of any tooth and it is the middle of the tooth. There are tiny holes in the dentine leading to the tooth’s nerve. 

With this structure in mind, it’s easier to understand what can happen if the enamel on your teeth begins to wear away. This is called enamel hypoplasia and it exposes the cementum and the dentine to danger. This leads to a greater risk of getting cavities and decay.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

If you’re experiencing sudden or persistent pain when you bite down on something cold, sip hot coffee, or even brush your teeth, you might be dealing with sensitive teeth. As mentioned above, this discomfort arises from exposed tooth dentin, the layer beneath your enamel. Here are some common causes of sensitive teeth:

  • Excessive brushing.
  • Brushing too hard.
  • Teeth that are decayed.
  • Acidic, sweet juices, and sports drinks.
  • Tooth whitening treatment.
  • Some teeth whitening treatments.
  • Gum recession or gum disease.
  • Recent dental work.
  • Tooth grinding.
  • Cold climate.
  • Sinus issues.
  • Cracked teeth.
  • Age.
  • Plaque buildup.
  • Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) of the jaw muscles.
  • Problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). 

Your dentist can pinpoint the cause of your tooth sensitivity and recommend treatment. There are ways to eliminate or control it.

Tips For Managing Sensitive Teeth

Here are some helpful tips for effectively dealing with sensitive teeth:

Use a Toothpaste Made Specifically for Sensitive Teeth

There are many to choose from and your dentist may have some in their office. These desensitizing toothpastes use stannous fluoride and potassium nitrate to protect the tooth’s nerve from exposure. 

Use a Toothbrush With Soft Bristles

Unlike medium or hard bristles, soft bristles aren’t hard enough to wear the enamel and dentine off your teeth over time.

Use Products and Eat Foods That Contain Fluoride

Many products for teeth contain fluoride, including whitening toothpaste. This mineral protects your teeth against cavities and sensitivity. You can also eat spinach, teas, grapes, and potatoes to add fluoride to your diet naturally.

Avoid Foods That Increase Tooth Sensitivity

Foods and drinks with high acidic content will wear the enamel off your teeth. The dentine and nerves can become exposed which leads to pain. Avoid citrus, dried fruits, pickled foods, coffee, and carbonated beverages.

Use Saltwater Mouthwash

Salt is an antiseptic and it kills bacteria that can cause tooth sensitivity. You can easily make your own by adding one teaspoon of salt to eight ounces of warm water. Swish around your mouth–don’t swallow it–for about 20 seconds and then spit it out. If that stings, decrease the salt to one-half teaspoon and try it again.

Try a Night Mouthguard

If you grind your teeth at night, you are also wearing the enamel off your teeth. Soon, the tooth’s nerve is exposed and that hurts. Ask your dentist if they see signs that you grind your teeth at night. If so, they can fit you for a night mouthguard to protect your teeth from this damage.

Try a Coating or Varnish Treatment on Your Teeth

Dental coating or varnishing reduces sensitivity because it adds a layer of protection to your teeth. Ask your dentist about this treatment if you’ve tried other things for sensitive teeth and your teeth still hurt.

By Being Proactive, Sensitive Teeth Can Be Managed

Don’t let tooth sensitivity hold you back from savoring your favorite foods and beverages. With the tips we’ve covered above, you should now have a much better idea of how to deal with sensitive teeth.

At All Smiles Dentistry, we understand the discomfort of sensitive teeth and are dedicated to helping you achieve a healthy, pain-free smile. With our expertise and commitment to helping you maintain good oral hygiene, you can achieve lasting relief and enjoy all the benefits of a healthy smile.

Schedule an appointment today for a consultation with our friendly and experienced team!

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