Woman taking a sip of coffee

What to Know About Teeth Sensitivity

Those who deal with sensitive teeth know how frustrating it can be, but may not know exactly what is happening to cause that painful ache when reaching for a sip of hot coffee, tea, or cocoa to warm up this winter. More so, if you suffer from sensitive teeth, you likely want to know how to treat the unpleasant sensations that result.

Sensitive Teeth Symptoms

The only obvious part about teeth sensitivity is when you’re experiencing it in the moment. If you avoid ice water or find yourself waiting until your coffee cools to lukewarm because either “extreme” is immediately met with a sharp pain, you may be dealing with teeth sensitivity. The same goes for those who experience pain or discomfort when brushing or flossing.

The Causes

The American Dental Association writes that the causes of teeth sensitivity can include a cracked tooth, tooth decay, worn tooth enamel, exposed tooth roots resulting from extreme brushing, worn fillings, gum recession and/or periodontal (gum) disease. However, there can be much more going on behind the scenes that adds to the pain endured.

Healthy teeth are coated in a layer of enamel, which is the strongest substance in the body. When protected by adequate enamel, teeth can be remarkably scratch-resistant, similar to diamonds. This scratch-resistant coating protects the crown of a healthy tooth.

Similarly, a layer called cementum protects the roots underneath the gums. Underneath the cementum is dentin. Dentin is composed of microscopic tubes, and is much softer than the protective coating covering it.

When the protective coating is worn away, heat and cold can stimulate the nerves and cells inside your teeth. Sticky or acidic foods and beverages can have the same impact. This results in pain when you chew or drink anything hot or cold. Especially sensitive teeth can also be agitated when exposed to extremely cold weather.

Preventive Dental Care

Basic dental care is your first defense against increasingly sensitive teeth. However, it’s not a surefire solution. Even the healthiest oral hygiene regimen won’t stop teeth from naturally wearing down a bit over time, but practicing proper oral care to begin with is always easier (and more budget-friendly) than trying to fix or reverse a longstanding problem.

A top to bottom list of the basics to keep your teeth happy includes:

  • Brushing your teeth twice a day
  • Flossing daily
  • Using dental products that have fluoride in them (this includes toothpaste)
  • Eating a balanced diet, and limited snacks between meals
  • Rinsing with a fluoride mouthrinse
  • Scheduling regular dental checkups

Keep to these basics and you’re far more likely to keep gum disease at bay. However, this doesn’t prevent sensitive teeth that result from genetics or excessive wear and tear.

Depending on the specific cause of your teeth sensitivity, your dentist may suggest different treatment methods.

Desensitizing toothpaste contains various compounds that numb and block sensation from traveling between the tooth surface and the nerve. These products typically require several uses before they become effective.

If desensitizing toothpaste doesn’t do the job for you, your next step may be to talk to your dentist about specialty in-office treatments with a fluoride gel or desensitizing agents that are applied to the sensitive areas of the affected teeth.

If these still do not solve the problem, next steps may include fillings, crowns, inlays, or bonding to correct any decay or flaws that may be causing the sensitivity.