Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Prevention and Treatment
Ouch! Most of us have experienced that particularly sharp burst of pain from our teeth which ruins having ice-cream on a hot summer’s day, or takes the comfort out of hot cocoa in winter, and can make us wince when we are brushing our teeth. According to statistics, more than half the population know the feeling, because they suffer from sensitive teeth.
The Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the natural protection system of your teeth is compromised. Teeth are made up of dentin, a substance housing tiny tubes containing nerve endings. These nerves are unprotected when tooth enamel thins, or when receding gums leave the roots (which don’t have a protective coat of enamel) exposed. The result is that short, extremely sharp shock you experience when you have acidic, sweet, hot or cold foods or drinks, or if you breathe in cold air. Like any nerve pain, it’s one of the nastiest of pains.
Thinning enamel, gum recession and root exposure can be brought about by aging; poor tooth brushing habits; grinding your teeth; broken teeth; old leaking fillings or tooth decay. It can also happen briefly after dental procedures like fillings, crowns or bleaching.
Depending on the cause of the sensitivity, treating it can be a simple or more complicated procedure.
Filling a cavity, or redoing an old filling is no problem. The application of a fluoride gel or sealant by your dentist while you are in his chair, is pretty simple, too, and helps with thinning enamel. Following that up at home with a fluoride toothpaste that desensitizes the nerve-endings in the dentin, is also just a matter of changing your normal toothpaste. You can also apply the fluoride toothpaste directly to sensitive areas.
Changing some habits
- Your dentist will advise you to be very careful when brushing your teeth, avoiding hard brushes and being gentle when brushing. Brushing from side-to-side, particularly along the gum line, is more likely to cause enamel loss and gum recession, so be sure to use an up-and-down motion. Also, avoid brushing too soon after eating – some foods have a tendency to weaken the enamel, so waiting for about an hour can give the enamel time to settle.
- Try to avoid acidic and sugary foods, which are known to increase the build-up of plaque, resulting in tooth decay and possibly in gum disease.
- Stop grinding or clenching your teeth by reducing stress, or ask your dentist for a mouth guard.
Dealing with gum recession
Correcting gum recession is a tougher problem. Your dentist might decide to use a deep-cleaning procedure called planning or scaling, to remove any built-up tartar under the gum-line. If this doesn’t prove effective, you may be referred to a periodontist for a gum graft. This will protect your root surfaces, and, as a bonus, keep your teeth from loosening because of gum damage.
Do not ignore tooth sensitivity if it fails to disappear after a short while. Seek your dentist’s advice: This way you can either get treatment to solve the sensitivity, or you have a chance of getting in early if you are dealing with more serious issues.