For those of us with sensitive teeth, that frequent zing! is all too familiar. We’ve learned to avoid drinking ice water, biting into ice cream, or brushing too hard on a particular tooth. Or maybe your tooth sensitivity is new. Suddenly you need to avoid chewing on one side of your mouth. What gives?
What is Tooth Sensitivity?
When you feel a sharp but quick jolt of discomfort in response to a stimulus (like hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods, or the touch of floss or a toothbrush), you are likely experiencing tooth sensitivity. When the stimulus is removed, the discomfort goes away. Some folks even feel the discomfort if they smile on a cold, windy day.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity is really “dentin hypersensitivity.” Dentin is the layer of your tooth just below enamel, the hard outer surface that is meant to protect your teeth. There are tiny microscopic tubules in dentin that reach to your tooth’s nerves and cells. It’s when hot, cold, acid, and other stimuli come into contact with these tubules that you get that fun little zing.
Dentin may be exposed due to an injury to a tooth, a cavity, gum disease, or brushing too hard, which can cause receding gums. You may also experience temporary teeth sensitivity after getting a cavity filled, after a teeth whitening treatment, or even during a sinus infection.
How Big of a Deal is It?
It depends on what’s causing your sensitivity. Your dentist is the one who can rule out (or discover) any underlying issues that you should take care of. Certainly, if you are experiencing constant or severe pain, it’s best to see your dentist right away.
Do I Have to Live with It Forever?
The great news is tooth sensitivity can be treated. Your dentist may recommend using a toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth. Or, they may recommend an in-office application of fluoride gel to protect the outer surface of your teeth.
If your tooth sensitivity is due to gum loss or a deeper issue, you may be a candidate for a gum graft, root canal, or another dental treatment.
Can I Prevent Tooth Sensitivity?
We’re glad you asked! There are several things you can do to prevent dentin exposure:
- Visit your dentist regularly for routine checkups to spot or prevent tooth decay.
- Maintain great dental hygiene. Brush twice and floss once daily. Make sure to brush properly; a 15-second burst of vigorous brushing is a recipe for disaster for your gums. Instead, stick with 2 minutes of gentle, thorough brushing.
- Consume fewer acidic foods and beverages. Or, swish with water after you consume something acidic.
- Follow the instructions for at-home whitening kits. You don’t want bleaching agents to linger on teeth longer than they should.
- Don’t use abrasive toothpaste, including home recipes using baking soda or activated charcoal.
Be kind to your teeth, visit your dentist, and enjoy ice cream again!