Most of us will, at some point or another, experience sensitivity in our teeth. Quite often this is temporary and is usually temperature related, but it can also be both persistent and uncomfortable. It may also indicate an underlying problem with your teeth or gums. However, having a conversation with your dentist is the first step in finding relief from your discomfort.
Why do I have sensitive teeth?
There are a number of different factors that can potentially cause your teeth to become sensitive. These can include the following:
Enamel Erosion – When the hard enamel surface of our teeth becomes worn or damaged, the softer dentin layer underneath is exposed. Our dentin is made up of microscopic tubules filled with tiny nerve endings, therefore any temperature extremes are more likely to be felt via the nerves in our teeth. Worn and damaged enamel can be caused by too many acidic foods, poor oral health or even teeth grinding.
Gum Recession – As we get older, many of us will find that our gums start to recede, leaving your root surfaces exposed which have no enamel. This is likely to cause an increase in sensitivity. Brushing incorrectly and with force can also cause your gums to recede which can also lead to sensitivity.
Gum Disease - A build-up of plaque or tartar can cause your gums to recede down around the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth leading to sensitivity. Pockets can form you’re the gums around your teeth, making the area difficult to keep clean and the problem worse.
Tooth Decay – Tooth decay can cause toothache on its own as it exposes the dentin of your tooth, however sensitivity can be a known symptom.
Broken or Chipped teeth – Any damage to the teeth will expose the dentin and make the teeth more sensitive.
Temporary after effects of dental treatment – After any type of dental treatment, it’s common to experience some increase in sensitivity following any dental procedures, but this is typically not a cause for concern and usually passes within a few days.
Providing that their teeth and gums remain healthy, most people avoid the discomfort of sensitive teeth.
- You may find that hot, cold, sweet or acidic drinks, or foods like ice cream, can bring on sensitivity, so you may want to avoid these.
- If you have sensitivity when brushing your teeth with cold water from the tap, you may need to use warm water instead. It is important to keep brushing your teeth regularly - if you don't, this could make the problem worse.
- Brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes and cleaning in between your teeth using floss or interdental brushes on a daily basis.
- If your concerned that you may be brushing your teeth too hard, consider switching to an electric toothbrush as particular brands have pressure sensors on to prevent you from applying too much pressure.
- Change your toothbrush every three months or sooner if it becomes worn.
- You should use fluoride toothpaste twice a day to brush your teeth and there are many different brands on the market that can help to ease the discomfort of sensitivity. You can also rub sensitive toothpaste onto the sensitive areas before you go to sleep at night. However, these toothpastes can take anything from a few days to several weeks to take effect.
- Regular routine visits to your dentist will help to keep your oral health in optimum condition and any problems that may cause sensitive teeth can be detected and treated.
If your sensitivity is caused by an underlying dental problem, you may require a course of treatment.
- Your dentist may treat the affected teeth with special ‘de-sensitising' products to help relieve the symptoms. Fluoride gels or varnishes can be applied to sensitive teeth. These can be painted onto the teeth at regular appointments one or two weeks apart, to build up some protection.
- If this still does not help, your dental team may seal or fill around the neck of the tooth, where the tooth and gum meet, to cover exposed dentin.
- To help treat and prevent gum disease, our dental hygienists can clean your teeth professionally, removing any hardened plaque and helping to restore good oral health.
- Where the teeth are chipped or cracked, it may be possible to repair with small fillings or crowns.
- In very serious cases it may be necessary to root-fill the tooth.