Sensitive Teeth: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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A woman whos eating a ice lolly and suffer because her sensitive teeth

1Overview

If drinking coffee or eating ice cream makes you uncomfortable, or brushing may make you wince, you may have sensitive teeth. When you have this condition, certain activities like flossing, eating, drinking and brushing may cause a temporary but sharp pain in the teeth.

Sensitive teeth are usually caused by thin tooth enamel, worn out tooth protection or exposed tooth roots. However, other factors may cause sensitive tooth pain like a chipped tooth, tooth cavity or the effect of dental bleaching.

Tooth sensitivity, dubbed as dentin hypersensitivity, involves the tooth or even its exposed roots. This usually happens when the enamel that protects the teeth, gets damaged and worn out, that the underlying surface called dentin becomes exposed. As a result, there is a reduction in the protection of the tooth and its root. Sensitive teeth are common,
it affects about 57 percent of the total population.

2Symptoms

The most common symptoms of sensitive teeth are when a person drinks or eats hot, cold, sweet or very acidic foods or drinks, he will feel a sharp pain. The condition can come and go over time.

The sharp pain is usually caused by a wide range of triggers, including:

  • Eating hot food or drinking hot drinks
  • Eating cold food or drinking cold beverages
  • Eating sugary or sour foods
  • Brushing the teeth
  • Breathing in cold air

3Causes

Why does tooth sensitivity (dentin hypersensitivity) happen?

The inside of the tooth is mainly made of a material called dentin. This is filled with microscopic tubules with small nerve endings. This area is covered with an outer layer of enamel that protects the dentin within the crown of the tooth. When dentin hypersensitivity or nerve irritation happens, it means that the dentin loses its protective enamel or cementum. As a result, the nerve endings are exposed, leading to sensitivity to hot, cold, acidic and sweet foods.

Common causes of tooth sensitivity

Dental erosion

Dental erosion is the loss of the enamel as a result of drinking acidic foods and drinks. When the enamel is worn away, the dentine will be exposed, causing sensitivity.

Gum disease

When there is an accumulation of tartar or plaque, this may lead to gum disease. The gum will recede down, exposing the bone supporting the tooth. Regular cleaning is important to prevent gum disease.

Gum recession

It is normal for the hums to shrink back and as a result, the roots, which are sensitive, become exposed. This will make drinking or eat cold or hot foods and drinks become painful.

Teeth grinding

This is the habit that involves the grinding and clenching of the teeth together.
The enamel will become damaged or worn away, making the teeth more sensitive.

Bleaching of teeth

Some people have tooth sensitivity when they have their teeth bleached.

Cracked filling or tooth

When a dental filling become damaged, it exposes the nerves, making the tooth sensitive. Same is true for a cracked tooth.

Bad habits

Using the teeth to chew objects like pencils or pens can wear away the enamel.

Age

People who are between the ages of 30 and 40 are at the highest risk of sensitive teeth.

Other causes:

  • Using a toothbrush with hard bristles
  • Periodontal disease leading to gum recession
  • Acid erosion of the enamel
  • Brushing the teeth with excessive force

4Diagnosis

Usually, this condition is diagnosed through a visit to your dentist. Proper oral care is the key to prevent the gums from receding and the roots were exposed, causing sensitive teeth. You can visit a dentist to ask any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine and how to manage the condition.

Moreover, to diagnose the condition, your dentist will look for the possible causes of tooth sensitivity such as receding gums, gum disease, tooth decay, enamel erosion, and others. An interview will also be conducted to determine the possible causes of the condition based on the patient’s personal history.

Regular dental visits may also prevent the condition itself. Make sure you have a family dentist who is well-adept with the knowledge and skills about dental health. The dentist will provide ways to prevent the occurrence of gum disease and gum recession. Also, when you consult a dentist, your condition can be managed and treated early on, before your condition worsens. He or she can also provide a customized treatment plan for you.

5Treatment

The treatment of teeth sensitivity relies on the cause of the condition.
There are many ways to treat the condition.

Treating teeth sensitivity naturally:

Swap your toothbrush

Brushing is important in promoting oral health. However, be mindful in choosing the toothbrush you’ll be using. Use a soft-bristled brush instead of a hard-bristled one. Using a hard-bristled brush and a highly invasive toothpaste can worsen tooth sensitivity.

Wear a mouth guard

If you’re one of the people who grind their teeth at night, you might want to use a mouth guard. This will prevent your teeth from grinding against each other, which can wear away the tooth enamel. If the enamel becomes worn away, it may lead to tooth sensitivity. You can request a mouth guard from your dentist.

Avoid acidic foods

Some foods and beverages such as coffee, citrus fruits, sodas, and yogurt can lead to sensitive teeth. These products could lead to the enamel being worn away. If you’re a heavy soda drinker, you’ll notice that in time you might feel discomfort and pain when you eat or drink hot or cold foods or beverages.

Brush correctly

Brush your teeth twice daily and replace your brush every three to four months. Avoid brushing excessively in random motion. Place your brush at a 45-degree angle and move it back and forth in short movements or strokes.

Use proper toothpaste

Many toothpaste products are intended for sensitive teeth. These products are formulated to soothe the nerve endings in the tooth.

Treatment of teeth sensitivity in the dentist’s clinic:

Fluoride Varnish

The dentist can apply a fluoride varnish to exposed areas, making the dentin and enamel stronger.

Bonding agent

This is the material commonly used to attach tooth-colored restorations to the teeth.
This can be used to provide a barrier to the triggers of sensitivity.

Fluoride gel or foam

This is used in providing the teeth with increased concentrations of fluoride to strengthen the enamel.

Covering root surfaces

The dentist will cover root surfaces that cause sensitive teeth. If you have receding gums as a result of persistent gum disease or aging, tooth sensitivity will occur.

Root canal treatment

Root canal treatment is another option for people who have tooth sensitivity. This is the last resort most dentists recommend. This procedure can effectively eradicate tooth sensitivity by removing the soft pulp inside the tooth that contains the nerve endings.

Related Conditions

Tooth decay

The sensation caused by dental caries or tooth decay may feel the same as sensitive teeth. This condition happens when the sugar in food and drinks cause a reaction with the bacteria in the plaque, forming acids. The acids can destroy the enamel and dentin, leading to tooth sensitivity.

However, when it comes to tooth decay, most people won’t feel the pain or sensation until it’s quite severe. During the early stages of the disease, the dentist can still save the tooth and manage the pain. If you feel any pain or sensation, it is important to consult a dentist for an appointment.

The other related conditions include:

  • A cracked or chipped tooth
  • Leakage around restorations
  • External tooth bleaching
  • Grinding or clenching teeth

6Prevention

Prevention is better than cure. Good oral hygiene is your best defense against many dental problems, including tooth sensitivity. When you have poor dental hygiene, the bacteria will live and proliferate around and between the teeth. Eventually, these bacteria can turn into tartar and will cause the gums to recede. Gum recession makes it more likely for the person to have sensitive teeth.

There are many ways to prevent tooth sensitivity, including:

  • Maintain good oral hygiene and care – Brush your teeth regularly and follow proper brushing techniques to clean all parts of the mouth. Make sure to floss regularly.
  • Watch food consumption – Remember to avoid highly-acidic foods that can dissolve the enamel of the teeth and may eventually lead to dentin exposure.
  • Use soft-bristled toothbrush – To reduce the wearing away of the enamel, use a soft-bristled brush.
  • Use desensitizing toothpaste – There are many brands available in the market.
  • Do not brush after consuming acidic foods or beverages or after vomiting This may lead to more loss of the enamel. Wait for about 60 minutes until saliva washes away the acids.
  • Avoid clenching teeth – Since in some people this is inevitable, you can use a custom-made night guard.
  • Consult with a dental hygienist regularly – You can undergo oral prophylaxis to remove plaque and tartar. You can also receive oral hygiene teachings.
  • Use fluoridated dental products – Use a fluoridated mouth rinse every day to reduce tooth sensitivity.
  • Develop a healthy lifestyle – Practicing a healthy lifestyle will promote overall health and wellness, including oral health. Eat healthily, exercise regularly and have an adequate sleep to reduce stress and teeth grinding.