What to Know About Teeth Sensitivity

Do you pass the ice cream aisle with a sense of forlorn longing? Does a steaming hot cup of tea make you wince a bit as it passes over your teeth? If so, you are not alone!

Many people suffer from tooth sensitivity. However, the reason behind this sensitivity may differ from one person to the next. It may be something innocuous, such as mild sensitivity resulting from a routine dental cleaning; or it could be a sign of something more serious (yet still treatable).

Let’s examine a few common causes that could lead to sensitive teeth, and what you can do to mitigate symptoms.

Tooth Sensitivity Causes

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.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

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, your may develop tooth sensitivity to cold or hot foods and beverages. 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.

Ways To Combat Tooth Sensitivity

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.

Easy on the Brushing

Ensure you are using proper brushing technique with your electric or manual toothbrush to avoid tooth sensitivity.

When it comes to brushing your teeth, it is possible to have too much of a good thing; Overzealous brushing can have harmful effects. If you’re too vigorous when brushing, you may wear away your enamel. If you’re brushing too hard from side to side directly along your gum line, you may be eroding the enamel more quickly.

To brush teeth properly, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends holding the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle to the gums and brushing away from the gums. Apply gentle pressure (not too much!) with quick strokes.

Get Away from the Grind

Some of us grind our teeth while we sleep — a habit that can quickly wear away enamel and cause sensitivity issues. This may not seem like a serious problem, but over time it can escalate. Ask your dentist about wearing a mouthguard while you sleep as a possible solution. You can purchase mouthguards that are custom-made to fit your jaw to minimize or eliminate discomfort while you sleep.

A Regular Check-Up

It’s also possible that your sensitivity is temporary because you are doing a great job maintaining the health of your teeth and gums! That’s right… it is normal to experience mild sensitivity (for example, when sipping hot or cold drinks) after a professional cleaning, whitening, or other dental procedure.

Pain or sensitivity on a long-term basis after a procedure is not normal, however, and in this case you should schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist.

A Crack in the Armor

If you have a crack in your tooth, perhaps due to an injury, this could be the cause of your wincing. Visit your dentist ASAP to fix that tooth! The treatment will depend on the nature of the crack and how deep it reaches. In some cases, a cap will fix the problem. A cap is a relatively simple procedure and is also sometimes used to improve the aesthetics of a person’s smile.

Plaque Attack?

patient happy to be at dentist
Regular dental checkups can help you avoid plaque and help you detect cavities before they get worse.

If excess plaque builds up, it can cause tooth enamel to erode, causing sensitivity. This is just one of the many reasons why regular brushing and flossing is so important. A thorough, daily oral hygiene routine significantly reduces plaque buildup, and controlled plaque means your teeth will feel stronger and healthier — even after a couple scoops from your favorite pint of ice cream!

Gum Disease

Regular dental checkups are critical to prevent gum disease. Many people put off trips to the dentist, whether they feel they cannot take the time off work, are anxious about the experience, or assume a lack of noticeable symptoms means they’re in the clear.

But your dental health is an essential part of your overall health. Don’t neglect it or delay treatment — just as you wouldn’t skip a trip to the doctor for an ongoing cough or even a routine physical exam!

Tooth Sensitivity Treatment

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.

Many causes of tooth sensitivity can be remedied by a visit to the dentist supplemented by regular checkups. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!