Tooth sensitivity is triggered by hot or cold, sweet or sour foods and drinks, or even by breathing in cold air. The pain can be sharp, sudden, and shoot deep into the nerve endings of your teeth.
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the underlying layer of your teeth – the dentin – becomes exposed as a result of receding gum tissue (the protective blanket that covers the tooth roots). The roots, which are not covered by hard enamel, contain thousands of tiny tubules leading to a tooth's nerve center (the pulp). These dentinal tubules (or channels) allow the stimuli – for example, the hot, cold, or sweet food – to reach the nerve in your tooth, which results in the pain you feel.
There are many factors that may lead to tooth sensitivity. They include:
Brushing too hard. Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed. It can also cause recession of the gums (when gum tissue pulls away from the teeth).
Recession of the gums. As gums move away from a tooth due to conditions such as periodontal disease, the root surface becomes exposed.
Gum disease (gingivitis). Inflamed and sore gum tissue may cause sensitivity due to the loss of supporting ligaments, which exposes the root surface that leads directly to the nerve of the tooth.
Cracked teeth. Chipped or broken teeth may fill with bacteria from plaque that can enter the pulp, causing inflammation.
Teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth may wear down the enamel and expose the underlying dentin.
Tooth whitening products or toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide. These products can contribute to teeth sensitivity.
Your age. Tooth sensitivity is greatest between the ages of 25 and 30.
Plaque build-up. The presence of plaque on the root surfaces can cause sensitivity.
Mouthwash use. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids that can worsen tooth sensitivity if you have exposed dentin (the middle layer of the tooth). The acids further damage the dentin layer of the tooth. If you use a mouthwash regularly, ask us to recommend a neutral fluoride solution.
Acidic foods. Regular consumption of acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles and tea, can cause enamel erosion.
Recent routine dental procedures. Sensitivity can occur following teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and tooth restoration. Sensitivity caused by dental procedures is temporary, usually lasting only a few days.
Ways to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
Maintain good oral hygiene. Continue to follow proper brushing and flossing techniques. Thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
Use a soft bristled toothbrush. Less toothbrush abrasion to the tooth surface leads to less irritation of your gums. Brush gently and carefully around the gum line so you don't remove more gum tissue.
Use desensitizing toothpaste. There are several brands of toothpaste available for sensitive teeth. You may need to try two or three different brands to find one that works best for you.
Watch what you eat. Frequent consumption of highly acid foods can gradually dissolve tooth enamel and lead to dentin exposure.
Use fluoridated dental products. Daily use of a fluoridated mouth rinse can decrease sensitivity.
Avoid teeth grinding. If you grind or clench your teeth, use a mouth guard at night.
See us at regular intervals. Professional tooth cleaning and fluoride treatments every six months (or sooner depending on your condition) can make a big difference!