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Understanding Tooth Sensitivity

sensitive teeth

3 Tips to Overcoming Sensitivity

Do you have tooth sensitivity? Relieve your symptoms with these three tips.

Use Good Brushing Techniques

"Gently" is the word to keep in mind when brushing your teeth. Tilt your brush at a 45-degree angle and use gentle strokes, focusing on one tooth at a time. Throw away your hard-bristled brush and replace it with a soft-bristled brush to prevent eroding your enamel or exposing your gums when you brush.

Buy Toothpaste Created for Sensitive Teeth

Desensitizing toothpastes prevent sensations from reaching your pulp. You may need to use the product a few times before you begin to notice results. If your tooth roots bother you, try placing a small amount of the paste on your roots to protect them too.

Ask Your Dentist About a Nightguard

A nightguard is an oral appliance that prevents you from grinding your teeth while you sleep. The appliance fits snugly over your bottom teeth and acts as a shock absorber. With the device in place, you won't have to worry about wearing away your enamel any longer.

Biting into a frozen treat or taking a sip of hot coffee can be painful if you have sensitive teeth. The problem may affect one in eight adults, according to a survey by HealthDay News. In most cases, tooth sensitivity is not a serious problem and can be relieved by making a few changes to your oral hygiene routine. Understanding what causes sensitivity can help you avoid this uncomfortable condition.

Nerve Irritation is the Problem

Your teeth consist of several layers. Enamel, the hardest substance in your body, covers the visible part of each tooth, while cementum covers tooth roots. Under the enamel and cementum is dentin, a hard layer of tissue that surrounds the pulp and helps protect it. Tiny hollow tubes travel through the dentin and transmit sensations to the pulp, the innermost layer of the tooth which contains blood vessels, nerves and connective tissue.

Although enamel and cementum are very strong, they can be damaged. When they begin to erode, the tubes in the dentin are uncovered. Once the tubes are exposed, you may experience sensitivity or pain if you eat sticky or acidic foods or eat or drink hot or cold foods. The problem starts when sensations triggered by the foods and beverages you consume travel through the tubes in the dentin and irritate the nerves and cells in the pulp. The nerves can also become irritated if you develop an inflammation or infection in the pulp.

Sensitive Tooth Causes

Teeth sensitivity can occur due to any of these factors:

  • Tooth Decay. Tooth decay attacks your enamel, exposing the dentin.
  • Brushing Too Hard. Using too much force when your brush your teeth or brushing with a hard-bristled brush can wear away your enamel.
  • Grinding. Wear and tear that erodes the enamel can happen more quickly if you grind your teeth at night.
  • Chips and Breaks. Chips and breaks offer a pathway to your pulp for bacteria.
  • Exposure to Acidic Foods. Frequent consumption of acidic foods, such as coffee, grapefruit, orange juice, tomato products, soda, and pickles can wear away your enamel.
  • Gum Disease. Gum disease can cause bacteria-laden pockets to form between your teeth and gums. When the gums pull away from the teeth to form the pockets, your sensitive roots are exposed.
  • Teeth Whitening Treatment. Sensitivity can occur after teeth whitening treatment, particularly if your roots are not adequately protected from the whitening agents.
  • Dental Work. Dental procedures, including fillings and crowns, can irritate the pulp and make teeth more sensitive for four to six weeks after treatment.

Dental Treatment Can Relieve Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity often goes away on its own, but if it persists longer than a week, it's a good idea to call your dentist. Several types of treatment can help relieve sensitivity, including:

  • Application of a protective coating or desensitizing agent that makes your teeth less sensitive to irritating foods
  • Special toothpastes or fluoride gels that make lessen sensitivity and strengthen enamel
  • Bonding to cover exposed roots
  • Dental treatment of cavities, chips, breaks, or infections that cause sensitivity
  • Gum grafts to replace tissue lost due to gum disease
  • Crowns to repair chips, cracks and breaks

Is tooth sensitivity a frequent problem for you? We offer a variety of treatments that will make eating and drinking more comfortable. Call us today to schedule an appointment.


Colgate: Causes and Treatments of Extremely Sensitive Teeth


American Dental Association: Sensitive Teeth, 12/03


WebMD: What Can You Do About Sensitive Teeth


Academy of General Dentistry: Why Are My Teeth Sensitive, 01/12


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