How to Deal with Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth can be an uncomfortable deterrent from enjoying your foods. Fortunately, tooth sensitivity is manageable and easily alleviated with proper care and a few treatment techniques. Understanding the causes of sensitivity and implementing preventive measures allows you to comfortably maintain a healthy smile and enjoy the foods and beverages you love without fear of pain or discomfort.

Let's delve into the causes of sensitive teeth and practical ways to address them.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

A few common causes of tooth sensitivity include the following:

Exposed Dentin

When the protective enamel on your teeth wears down or develops cracks, the underlying dentin becomes exposed. Dentin contains tiny tubules that lead to the tooth's nerve, making it sensitive to stimuli like hot or cold.

Receding Gums

Gum recession exposes more dentin, leading to sensitivity. Factors like periodontal disease, aggressive brushing, or genetic predisposition can cause gums to recede.

Enamel Erosion

Over time, acidic foods, teeth grinding, or normal wear and tear can wear down enamel, exposing dentin and leaving the teeth more prone to sensitivity.

Damaged Fillings

Cracked or worn dental fillings can leave the underlying layer of the tooth vulnerable to sensitivity.

Teeth Grinding (Bruxism) 

Grinding teeth can create tiny cracks in enamel, exposing dentin. This is often more pronounced during sleep.

Plaque Buildup

When plaque isn't removed effectively by brushing and flossing, it can lead to tooth decay and enamel erosion, uncovering dentin.

What Foods and Drinks Can Cause Sensitivity?

A few types of foods that can contribute to feelings of sensitivity for patients include chilled foods or items serve cold like iced beverages and cold treats or ice cream. Cold foods can trigger sharp pain in sensitive teeth due to rapid temperature changes.

Patients with sensitive teeth can also be affected by acidic foods, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, vinegar, and acidic beverages like soda. Acids in the food can contribute to dissolving enamel, exposing nerves and causing sensitivity. High-sugar foods like candies, syrups, and sticky treats can exacerbate sensitivity through their promotion of more rapid tooth decay.

What Lifestyle Factors Affect Tooth Sensitivity?

A few dental hygiene habits can make or break your experience with sensitive teeth. Dentists recommend avoiding harsh, aggressive brushing with hard-bristled toothbrushes, as they can wear down the tooth enamel. It's important to select the proper toothpaste, as abrasive toothpaste or whitening toothpaste can also contribute to enamel erosion.

How Can I Reduce Tooth Sensitivity?

The most effective approach to treating tooth sensitivity is often with quality prevention in a collaborative effort with your dentist. This can start at home with the maintenance of a consistent oral hygiene routine. Select a soft-bristled toothbrush for gentle wear to the teeth. Use a gentle approach to brushing your teeth, using circular motions to protect the enamel.

At home, limiting the intake of enamel-eroding acidic and sugary foods and drinks including excess sugar, soda and acidic foods, will help protect sensitive teeth from worsening.

Maintaining your regular preventive check-up appointments and cleanings with your dentist dental check-ups will promote the maintenance of your healthiest smile, including the early detection and intervention for gum recession, enamel erosion, cavities and other factors that contribute to tooth sensitivity. For patients who grind their teeth, a custom-fitted, dentist-provided mouthguard can mitigate damage to the teeth, while stress-management techniques can lessen the occurrence of grinding itself.

Your dentist might suggest professionally administered fluoride treatments or at-home fluoride supplements to fortify tooth enamel and minimize the feelings of sensitivity. Sharing your symptoms and concerns with your dentist will allow them to create a customized strategy to keep your tooth sensitivity at bay and allow you to return to enjoying the foods you love.

Diaganosis and Treatment for Sensitivity

To determine the cause and extent of your tooth sensitivity, your dentist will conduct a dental exam to assess your overall tooth and gum health. They may perform X-rays to identify underlying issues like decay or bone loss, then use sensitivity tests to pinpoint the severity of the affected teeth.

Treatment options for tooth sensitivity typically include:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste
  • Specific mouthwash designed to reduce sensitivity
  • Chewing gum with xylitol or calcium phosphate to strengthen enamel
  • Professional treatments for severe cases of tooth sensitivity, including fluoride varnish, dental sealants, fillings, or nerve surgery

When tooth sensitivity indicates a more serious oral health concern, your dentist may take a more specialized approach. For tooth decay, your dentist can provide dental fillings or root canal treatment to remove infection and reseal the tooth. Sensitivity indicating gum disease will require periodontal cleaning and specialized recommendations for oral hygiene. Any damage to the teeth or dental restorations should be addressed right away, to promote your healthiest overall smile!

It's essential to consult your dentist for a tooth sensitivity evaluation if:

  • Tooth sensitivity persists despite trying over-the-counter remedies.
  • Pain caused by tooth sensitivity is severe, and other symptoms like red or swollen gums are present.
  • Tooth sensitivity occurs suddenly after dental injury or damage to the teeth.

Work with Your Dentist to Alleviate Tooth Sensitivity

If you're experiencing persistent or severe sensitivity, scheduling an appointment with your dentist right away is important to get your smile back on track and ensure you can return to enjoying your favorite foods and drinks. Your dentist will assess the causes of your tooth sensitivity and recommend the best treatments for your best oral health!

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