This is another common dental question that I get asked from patients.
Sensitivity may vary from not being able to eat the ice cream that you are craving, to having to use warmer water to brush your teeth.
Sensitivity is not only uncomfortable, but it can also start to interfere with everyday functioning of those who are affected by it.
Sensitivity has many causes, and knowing the cause is key to finding an appropriate treatment option.
Knowing tooth anatomy is helpful in understanding tooth sensitivity
There are three layers to teeth – the very outer enamel, inner dentin, and the nerve (called pulp) in the middle. Enamel is the strongest substance in the body and worn away only through grinding, acid erosion, or cavities.
When enamel is worn away, the tubules in the middle dentinal layer communicate with the nerve and cause sensitivity.
Another source of sensitivity is root exposure – roots of teeth are not meant to be exposed to the oral or external environment, and when we get dental recession (where the tooth looks longer), the exposed root will cause pain for patients.
What can I do for sensitive teeth?
It is important to be aware of your brushing habits! When it comes to brushing, harder is not better.
If you are noticing receding gums or notching among your gumline (called ‘abfraction’), there is a chance that you are brushing too hard. You can back away with the pressure, use a softer toothbrush, or use electric toothbrushes which have a feedback mechanism and stop spinning when you apply too much pressure.
Acid erosion is one of the biggest causes of sensitive teeth
While sugar is known for causing cavities, acidic foods and drinks will quickly wear enamel and cause cavities and sensitivity even quicker. Any pop, soda, lemonade or ice tea is very acidic and harmful to teeth.
A less known culprit is carbonated water; many patients don’t realize that carbonation is in itself acidic.
Finally, putting lemon in your water may be healthy for your intestinal health, but it can damage teeth very fast.
Avoiding these drinks will improve sensitivity with time, and considerably decrease the decay rate.
Patients can choose to get an OTC fluoride rinse from the pharmacy, and/or get your dentist to apply fluoride to your teeth. Fluoride rinses are an inexpensive way to remineralize your teeth. The fluoride varnish offered at a dental office is the strongest type available. While results vary between people, the improvement in sensitivity can last for several months.
Almost every toothpaste brand now carries an option for sensitive teeth. These kinds of toothpaste generally contain potassium nitrate and strontium chloride, which both help to desensitize the nerve endings.
Clenching and grinding can cause teeth sensitivity
Clenching and grinding can cause sore teeth and sensitivity for patients. Some signs that you are clenching and or grinding your teeth is if you are waking up in the morning with one or multiple sore teeth, tired or sore jaw muscles, or with a headache.
If you are sleeping next to your partner who is a light sleeper, they may tell you that you are grinding your teeth!
If one of these symptoms describes you, a night guard may be a worthwhile investment for you. Night guards will not stop you from grinding your teeth – yet they will protect your teeth from wear. And can decrease the sensitivity and tooth pain that patients feel.
If you are a strong clencher, Botox treatment in the jaw muscle may be a treatment that you consider. The purpose of Botox is to paralyze the jaw muscles so that patients cannot flex their clenching muscles.
Lastly, if you have recently had dental fillings done, the sensitivity could be a result of the filling being “high”. Your sensitivity may improve considerably by returning to your dentist’s office to allow them to make adjustments.