Is a sip of hot coffee or a spoonful of ice cream a painful experience? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.
Having sensitive teeth is a condition that causes discomfort in your teeth when they are exposed to certain stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet, or sour foods and drinks.
How Common Is It To Have Sensitive Teeth?
The American Academy of General Dentistry estimates that tooth sensitivity is a common issue for about 40 million Americans. This isn’t the occasional feeling when you bite into an ice cream cone, but sensitivity that is ongoing. It probably is in line with statistics that show one in five Americans haven’t been to the dentist in the last five years.
Causes Of Sensitive Teeth
Your teeth may become sensitive if the inner layer of your teeth, called dentin, becomes exposed. There are thousands of tiny channels filled with nerves that lead to your tooth’s nerve center which allow stimuli to reach the main nerve in your tooth. When these channels are unprotected by the outer layer of your tooth, it can lead to severe pain when the nerves become exposed to stimuli such as hot or cold temperatures.
Some factors which may contribute to sensitive teeth include:
- Dental cavities
- Cracked tooth
- Worn tooth enamel
- Exposed tooth roots
- Receding gum line
- Gum disease
- Tooth whitening products
- Tooth decay near the gum line
- Brushing too hard
- Erosion at the gumline caused by abfraction (flexing) of the tooth due to a heavy bite
Treatments To Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
Mesa dentists Dr. LeSueur, Dr. Glenn LeSueur, and Dr. Dodaro may recommend the following treatments for your sensitive teeth:
Desensitizing toothpaste – Regular brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste can help eliminate the pain you are experiencing.
Fluoridated dental products – Prescription mouth washes and toothpastes containing a higher concentration of fluoride can help reduce tooth sensitivity.
Avoid teeth grinding – If you regularly grind your teeth while you sleep, use a mouth guard to prevent this grinding from damaging your teeth.
Use a soft bristled toothbrush – This will help reduce gum irritation and abrasion to the surface of your teeth. Make sure you brush gently but thoroughly around the gums in order to prevent your gum line from receding further.
Cover exposed root surfaces – Dr. LeSueur, Dr. Glenn LeSueur, and Dr. Dodaro may use a special sealant to cover any exposed tooth roots which are causing your sensitivity
If none of these treatments help eliminate your sensitive teeth, then Dr. LeSueur, Dr. Glenn LeSueur, and Dr. Dodaro may recommend a root canal to remove any tooth pulp problems which may be causing your sensitivity.
What Happens If I Don’t Treat My Sensitive Teeth?
Tooth sensitivity is a nuisance for some, or it can be a more serious sign of other issues, such as bruxism. If you’ve been brushing too hard and have lightened up or you’ve changed to a softer toothbrush, your gums may calm down and your sensitivity may pass. If you’ve had a teeth whitening treatment, sensitivity is common for a day or two afterward because of the way the peroxide whitening agent penetrates the tooth enamel to break loose the stains. This sensitivity passes.
You could stop drinking or eating the highly acidic beverages and foods that are causing your tooth enamel to thin, but if the damage is done, your sensitivity won’t go away without treatment.
If your sensitivity is due to gum recession, this won’t resolve without treatment to bring the gums back down. This isn’t something to leave alone; if your tooth roots are exposed by receding gums, they can develop decay easier than the upper crown of the tooth. That’s because the tooth roots aren’t covered by enamel as the crown of the tooth is. The gums are the usual protection for the roots and having them exposed makes them vulnerable.
If you’re grinding your teeth, that can change if you remove the stressors that are causing your unconscious clenching. More likely, having Dr. LeSueur and our team fit you with a night mouth guard could be necessary to stop your bruxism.
If your sensitivity is due to issues with the teeth, such as a chip, a deep crack, or decay, the sensitivity won’t go away. It’s providing you with a warning sign of your tooth damage. These problems will only worsen if allowed to do so.
When Is It Time To See A Dentist About My Sensitive Teeth?
Any time your sensitivity lasts beyond a few days is a cause for concern. These cases are often the first sign that decay has penetrated the tooth enamel and is beginning to impact the nerves of the tooth, leading to sensitivity. The decay needs to be removed and a filling placed. If you leave decay untreated, the future is a root canal or possible tooth extraction. The sensitivity in the tooth is giving you a warning sign that needs to be heeded.
Although the other causes, such as bruxism or overly aggressive brushing, aren’t quite as time sensitive as decay they still merit immediate attention from our team at Drs of Smiles so that we can halt your gum recession.
What’s The Relationship Between Tooth Sensitivity And Tooth Enamel?
If you asked a person to tell you what they thought the hardest part of the human body was, they’d probably tell you the skull or a thigh bone. It’s the tooth enamel. It must be hard because it has a difficult job — protecting the teeth against bacteria, acids, hard foods, and the like. People assume tooth enamel covers the entire tooth, but it doesn’t. Tooth enamel covers the visible portion of the tooth, the crown. This is the portion of the tooth above the gum line. Below the gum line is the tooth root, and it is not covered by tooth enamel. The roots are covered by cementum, which is hard, but not as hard as enamel. That makes cementum more easily penetrated by decay. It can also be worn away with overly aggressive tooth brushing once the tooth roots are exposed.
Inside the tooth roots you’ll find dentin and nerve pulp. When the cementum protecting the root surface is worn away, the dentin’s tubules allow hot, cold, acidic, or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves inside the roots, causing sensitivity.
When your gums are the proper height, they cover the cementum and the tooth roots. Enamel covers the exposed crown above. But when the tooth roots are exposed, sensitivity will follow.
Tooth enamel, although it is quite hard, can also wear down. This happens through the long-term consumption of acidic foods and drinks. It comes from having gastroesophageal problems. It comes from eating disorders. Unfortunately, our enamel also thins with the passage of time and decades of chewing, biting, and exposure to saliva and acids. That’s why older people often notice their teeth are more yellow — that means the dentin is showing through the thinning enamel. The dentin layer of the tooth has a yellow tint.
How Long Will My Tooth Sensitivity Last?
A tooth can be sensitive for a few days and then it passes. Sensitivity tied to recent grinding that accompanied a new stress in your life can pass as soon as you stop the clenching and grinding that is irritating the nerve. It’s common to have a little sensitivity after a cleaning or a teeth whitening treatment, but this should only last a day or so.
As mentioned above, if the causes behind your sensitive teeth are due to decay, gum recession, or tooth damage, this sensitivity isn’t going anywhere until you have treatment.
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Dr. Scott LeSueur, Dr. Glenn LeSueur, and Dr. Charles Dodaro are Mesa dentists, serving Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, and other East Valley Cities in Arizona, combine LVI training and state-of-the-art technology to bring you, and your entire family, the very best and healthiest cosmetic and neuromuscular dental care.