02 Oct Why Are My Teeth Sensitive
Why are my teeth sensitive?
Do you avoid certain foods & drinks because they cause sensitive teeth? It may be time for a check up at your dental practice!
Tooth sensitivity affects many people. There are many causes of tooth sensitivity, mostly relating to exposed dentine. Dentine makes up the majority of the inside of the tooth structure, and is covered by protective & insulating layers of enamel on the tooth crown, and cementum on the root of the tooth. When this dentine is exposed, the nerve is stimulated by cold, hot, sweet & even touch.
The most common form of sensitivity is to cold things such as icy water, ice blocks, or in some extreme cases breathing in cold air. You may even find you get sensitivity to sweet things as well. It can be in just one tooth, or it may be all or most of your teeth that are sensitive. Sensitivity to heat may indicate bigger issues affecting the nerve of the tooth, & should not be ignored!
What causes exposed dentine?
In a normal healthy tooth, the enamel provides a protective layer over the dentine, but there are many causes why this layer of enamel or cementum can be lost.
- Tooth decay (cavities)/worn or leaking fillings: tooth decay in its early stages generally doesn’t cause any sensitivity; in the later stages of tooth decay, or sometimes in the case of old & leaking fillings, the decay breaks down the layer of enamel and the dentine becomes exposed.
- Acid erosion: an acidic environment in the mouth strip the surface of the tooth. The acid comes from acidic foods and drinks or from stomach acid entering the mouth due to reflux.
- Toothbrush abrasion and receding gums: using a hard toothbrush or scrubbing too hard can cause the gums to recede, which exposes the root surface of the tooth. The root surface is a lot softer than the enamel and wears much faster, leading to tooth surface loss and increased sensitivity.
- Gum disease/periodontitis: bone loss around the teeth caused by gum disease can cause the gums to recede leading to exposed root surfaces.
- Grinding your teeth: this usually occurs at night and most people are unaware that they even do it. This can wear through the enamel over time exposing the dentine.
- Post dental treatment: generally temporary sensitivity experienced after a large filling or other dental treatment.
What can I do?
The first step is finding out why you have sensitive teeth in the first place. A trip to your dentist and hygienist can help figure out why you are experiencing sensitivity. Try to take note of what triggers the sensitivity, and how long the sensitivity lasts. This will help the dentist or hygienist with a diagnosis. Treating the underlying cause is the best way of preventing your teeth becoming sensitive again in the future!
Your oral health professional may recommend trying a sensitive-toothpaste if appropriate. These toothpastes block the nerve endings on the exposed tooth surface and reducing the sensitivity in the tooth. It is best to use these types of toothpastes twice a day for several weeks. A good trick to speed up the effect of the toothpaste is to use the toothpaste as a cream, applying it directly to the sensitive part of the tooth.
It is best if you don’t rinse your toothpaste out (this includes your normal toothpaste!). We use the motto brush, spit but don’t rinse. This will leave a small amount toothpaste in your mouth, which helps it to work much better. Another tip is to looking at acidic drinks and food in your diet such as fruit juice, soft drink and even salad dressings. Reducing the intake of these can dramatically change the pH in your mouth creating a more alkaline environment. If sensitive toothpastes are not working then make an appointment with your dental professional for an assessment.
If the sensitivity is caused by leaking or broken fillings these will need to be replaced to seal up the tooth.
So organise a dental appointment, find out the cause of your dental sensitivity and get back to those foods and drinks you love!
Written by Emily Smith, Oral Health Therapist at Paul Beath Dental