Ouch, That Hurts! | Teeth Sensitivity 101: Causes, Care, and Treatment
The fact that teeth sensitivity is rather prevalent isn’t a surprise since 1 in 8 adults report sensitive teeth. In some cases, a broken or chipped tooth may trigger sensitivity in a part of the mouth, causing discomfort and sometimes even pain that may require some urgent dental care. If it truly is a dental emergency, visit Dental Group of Chicago for expert help and care. But first, let’s see what else can cause this condition and if it is as severe as it sounds.
What Is Teeth Sensitivity Exactly?
Having sensitive teeth means that we feel some discomfort or pain when we’re drinking hot or cold beverages, inhaling cool air, etc. As the name says, teeth sensitivity is a natural response of our teeth to different stimuli, in most cases, higher or lower temperatures (but also different flavors). The condition can also point to more severe dental issues that may require emergency dental care.
How Does It Occur?
Though it may seem rather sudden, our teeth don’t usually become very sensitive overnight. Most often, this is a result of dentin exposure, which may happen due to gingival recession (receding gums) or regular tooth wear (enamel loss). Our teeth can be worn down by a number of things, including acid, smoking, teeth grinding, etc.
In layman’s terms, healthy teeth have enamel, which protects the dentin, and healthy gums, which protect the tooth roots. But if one or both of these types of protection become weak, the dentin may get exposed. This part of the tooth has thousands of microscopic channels, which all work as pathways to a pain-triggering nerve. When exposed, they allow various stimuli to reach the nerve.
What Triggers the Condition?
According to Wikipedia, teeth sensitivity, or rather, dentin hypersensitivity is a type of dental pain we cannot exactly link to another condition. It is an exaggerated response to various stimuli that ideally shouldn’t cause any discomfort. These are usually thermal, chemical, or osmotic, but they can also be evaporative, tactile, and electrical.
Teeth sensitivity to cold and hot foods and drinks is likely the most common type people experience. Whether it’s hot coffee in the morning or cold water during regular dental cleanings, we may feel discomfort or even some pain when the liquid or food comes in contact with our teeth.
We can experience teeth sensitivity to air too — cold air, in particular — when breathing. There is also teeth sensitivity to sugar and sour/acidic foods. Even our dental hygiene may trigger it; some people report feeling discomfort when using alcohol-based mouthwashes or while brushing or flossing their teeth. The level of pain or discomfort may range from mild to intense.
Teeth Sensitivity Causes to Look Out for
There are a few things that could contribute to someone having more sensitive teeth, such as:
- Enjoying acidic foods and drinks often (causes enamel reduction)
- Using a hard toothbrush and brushing too harshly (causes enamel loss and gum recession)
- Teeth grinding or clenching (wears down enamel)
- Use of mouthwash (acid-based mouth rinses can further damage dentin)
- Overuse of abrasive toothpaste or teeth whitening products (those that contain hydrogen peroxide or baking soda)
Teeth Sensitivity as a Symptom of Other Dental Problems
Sensitive teeth can sometimes be an indicator of other conditions and procedures and thus be a chronic or temporary issue. These include:
- Dental work. If you have gotten some dental work done, your teeth may be more sensitive for a while. This includes getting common procedures like fillings and crowns done, as well as teeth bleaching. The discomfort or pain should subside in four to six weeks.
- Tooth damage. A chipped or broken tooth, as well as tooth decay, all count as conditions that could lead to dentin exposure and sensitive teeth. However, in contrast to naturally sensitive teeth, only one area or a specific tooth will be more sensitive in this case.
- Gum disease. This causes inflammation, which in turn, may make gum tissue to recede, baring the vulnerable parts.
- Gum recession. This happens in people with periodontal disease and causes gums to move away from the teeth, thus exposing the root surface.
- Plaque buildup
- GERD. Gastroesophageal reflux causes acid to rise up in the stomach and esophagus. Over time, the acidity can wear down our teeth and lead to dentin exposure.
- Vomiting. Certain conditions, such as bulimia and gastroparesis, may cause frequent vomiting. Vomit is highly acidic, so it can contribute to enamel loss and tooth sensitivity.
How to Treat and Prevent Sensitive Teeth
So now that we know what could make our teeth sensitive, is there a way to prevent further issues? Overall, regular dental checkups and good oral hygiene are a must. Still, a gentler approach may help us avoid receding gums. We ought to opt for a slower routine and a softer toothbrush; in case the condition is already severe, though, the dentist may suggest a gum graft. Getting a desensitizing toothpaste and mouthwash (fluoridated, for instance) could also help and lower sensitivity over time.
Cutting down on sugary and acidic foods and drinks is another option to keep our teeth in top-notch shape. Also, we should check if we’re clenching or grinding our teeth without even being aware of it. Stress and caffeine can contribute to this, so we ought to resolve those issues first. Still, to be safe, getting a mouthguard to wear at night is a good idea too.
Finally, some of the dental work that could help decrease sensitivity include bonding, inlays, or crowns (i.e., fixing decay and damage) and applying fluoride gel or varnish. In case the issue has grown and the teeth have developed an infection and are too sensitive, a root canal may be the only option.
Don’t Underestimate Sensitive Teeth
Although teeth sensitivity to heat, cool air, or even sugar may come naturally to some people, we shouldn’t try to ignore it and hope it goes away. It might only last a few weeks if we have had some dental work done recently, but it could also point to a more severe issue we should attend to. Thus, when in doubt, it doesn’t hurt to set up a checkup with a dentist; being cautious about our teeth may require more effort and time on our part, but it will pay off and ensure our pearly whites remain healthy for years to come!