What Causes Tooth Sensitivity and Can it Be Treated?

Tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity can strike, seemingly, out of no where. Have you ever eaten an ice cream bar and had a sensitive tooth suddenly send shooting pains throughout your mouth? According to the Academy of General Dentistry, at least 40 million adults in the United States suffer from sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem that causes pain to throb into the tooth’s nerve endings when encountering something cold or hot, or eating something sweet. Fortunately, sensitive teeth can be treated and the condition can improve.

Tooth sensitivity to cold is more than just an annoyance, it can be very painful, and may even be a sign of a bigger problem such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, or gum disease. If you are bothered by sensitive teeth, contact Dr. Ashley Niles of Niles Family Dentistry at (720) 744-0001. She can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain. Dr. Niles offers a wide variety of dental procedures and services in her Niwot office. Check out her practice by following this link.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is usually caused by exposed dentin on root areas from gum disease and/or receded gums. The root area of your tooth isn’t protected by enamel and when the enamel wears away, the nerves within the tooth are exposed.

Common Causes of  Tooth Erosion

  1.  Overzealous Teeth Brushing

Overzealous brushing is a problem. It can scrape away tooth structure and damage gum tissue to the point that it loosens the gums from your teeth, exposing your mouth to possible infection and gum damage. Following is a brief overview of proper brushing habits:

  • Brush the outer surfaces, inside surfaces and chewing surfaces of all teeth with a soft bristle toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste for two minutes – don’t forget your tongue!
  • Floss your teeth once a day (preferably at bedtime)
  • Rinse your mouth thoroughly with water and finish with an antiseptic mouthwash rinse
  • For more in-depth tips on proper brushing, check out this website.
  1.  An Acidic Diet

Eating too many high acidic foods can damage the tooth enamel, which exposes the inner layer of your teeth. When the inner layer of your tooth is exposed, the nerve center is more exposed, which can lead to painful tooth sensitivity. Highly-acidic foods are one notable cause of tooth sensitivity. A partial list of highly acidic foods includes the following:

  • Coffee
  • Plums, prunes and cranberries
  • Sport drinks and soft drinks
  • Orange juice
  • Tomatoes
  • Wine
  • Citrus fruits
  • Pickled products

Does this mean you can’t eat the foods you enjoy? Follow these tips to reduce the effects of acid on your teeth:

  • Instead of snacking throughout the day, save acidic foods for mealtimes. This will reduce full contact of the acidic foods with your teeth and help neutralize the acid by eating it with other foods.
  • Sip water alongside or after the acidic food or drink to wash it out of your mouth.
  • If you drink acidic beverages, reduce their contact with your teeth by using a straw and finish the drink quickly, instead of sipping it over a long period of time.
  • Acid softens your enamel, so brushing immediately after eating or drinking high-acid foods or drinks can actually cause damage. Wait at least 30 minutes and then start brushing, but rinse your mouth thoroughly with tap water after you eat.
  1.  Excessive Over the Counter Teeth Whitening

Pearly white teeth are the norm these days. Teeth in their natural state are not bone-white, but more of a pearly shade. A good rule of thumb in whitening your own teeth is to match the color of the whites of your eyes and don’t aim for shades whiter than that. It is really important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the over the counter teeth whitening products.

  • Never whiten your teeth for longer than recommended. Overuse of whitening products can cause sensitivity. When used to excess, they have the potential to make your teeth very sensitive or even damage them.

Treatment for Sensitive Teeth

If you’re bothered by sensitive teeth, make an appointment to see Dr. Niles. She can discover any underlying causes of your tooth pain. Depending on the circumstances, she might recommend the following:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste can sometimes help block pain associated with sensitive teeth. There are a variety of products available over-the-counter.
  • Apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain.
  • Occasionally, exposed root surfaces can be treated by applying bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces. A local anesthetic might be needed.
  • If your tooth root has lost gum tissue, a small amount of gum tissue can be taken from elsewhere in your mouth and attached to the affected site. This can protect exposed roots and reduce sensitivity.
  • If your sensitive teeth cause severe pain and other treatments aren’t effective, Dr. Niles might recommend a root canal; it’s considered the most successful technique for eliminating tooth sensitivity.

Maintaining good oral hygiene is one of the most important things you can do for your teeth and gums. Healthy teeth enable you to look and feel good and contribute to your overall well-being. Daily preventive care, including proper brushing and flossing, will help stop problems before they develop. Regular visits to the dentist, greatly decrease the risk of developing tooth decay, gum disease and other dental problems.

Call Dr. Niles’ office at (720) 744-0001 for any of the dental needs you may have. She is located in Niwot, Colorado, and serves the communities of Longmont, Boulder, Lafayette, and Louisville. 

We look forward to the upcoming months of ice cream bars and iced drinks and want you to enjoy them in a pain free way!

Ashley Niles

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