You sip an ice-cold drink, try to enjoy some hot tea or just go about your day, and you feel it — a sharp pain in your tooth. You’re dealing with sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity, or dentin hypersensitivity, is an issue that plenty of people experience. At least 40 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of tooth sensitivity. But what causes sensitive teeth? And are there any ways to treat tooth sensitivity?
In this guide, we’ll explain the common causes of tooth sensitivity and how to treat it. Consult the information below if you believe you have tooth sensitivity, then learn about your treatment options with Friedman Dental Group.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Erosion of the protective enamel coating on the teeth causes tooth sensitivity. When the enamel wears down, it exposes your tooth’s dentin, which is the second tooth layer. This layer houses the nerve endings of your teeth, which can cause pain and sensitivity when exposed. Various habits and issues can be causes of tooth sensitivity, such as:
1. Aggressive Brushing
If you brush your teeth too hard, you risk wearing down your enamel and developing sensitivity. To avoid brushing your teeth aggressively, you should:
- Be mindful as you brush: It’s easy to get distracted as you brush your teeth. That means you may brush too hard or not brush your teeth long enough.
- Check your bristles: If you brush your teeth aggressively, you’ll notice the bristles of your toothbrush flatten over time.
- Brush correctly: When you brush your teeth, remember to brush in small, gentle circles. That prevents you from brushing up and down roughly.
2. Lacking Routine Oral Care
Not brushing or flossing your teeth lets plaque build up on the tooth’s surface. This buildup affects the pH of your mouth, making it lower — or more acidic — which impacts your teeth’s enamel. Prevent tooth sensitivity due to a lack of routine dental care by brushing your teeth twice a day. Floss regularly, use a mouthwash that’s safe for sensitive teeth and keep up with regular dentist visits.
3. Receding Gums
Receding gums have a variety of causes, from poor dental hygiene to grinding your teeth as you sleep. If you notice your teeth look longer and your gums look pushed away from them, you may have receding gums. This issue allows more bacteria to form around the affected areas and increases your risk for gum disease, which both lead to tooth sensitivity. Treatment will depend on how severe your condition is, with a change in your oral hygiene routine for mild issues and a gum graft for severe receding gums.
4. Gum Disease
If you have gums that are loose, bleed easily, are red and swollen or you have separating teeth, you are likely dealing with gum disease. Gum disease has an impact on your gums and your teeth, including causing sensitivity. With gum disease, you could experience inflamed or receding gum tissue. That causes a loss of supporting ligaments, exposes the roots that lead right to your tooth’s nerves and may cause sensitivity.
5. Exposed Roots or Weakened Enamel
The roots and nerves of your teeth may become exposed in ways other than gum disease. Tooth decay and cavities occur when plaque builds up and weakens your teeth’s enamel. The result is exposed areas of your teeth that lead to sensitivity. You may also have tooth decay if you have older fillings that have fractured or weakened over time, letting in bacteria and causing plaque growth and decay. Tooth-root decay causes similar sensitivity issues but happens with a softer tissue than enamel, called cementum.
6. Acidic Diet
Sour and acidic foods or drinks erode your enamel. If you have tooth sensitivity, check your diet for acidic drinks or foods like:
- Fruit drinks
- Fruit juices
- Sports drinks
Eliminate these items from your diet or consume them less in favor of water, milk and other less acidic drinks and foods that won’t erode your enamel. If you do consume something acidic, wait an hour before brushing your teeth. Right after eating or drinking, the acid makes your enamel soft, which means brushing could damage it — even if you do it gently.
7. Sugary Diet
Many acidic drinks, like fruit juices and soda, contain plenty of sugar that can damage your enamel. Eating or drinking sugary items doesn’t cause erosion right away. Instead, it invites bad bacteria into your mouth, and that creates plaque. As we’ve explained, plaque turns your mouth into an acidic environment, which wears away at your enamel.
8. Acid Reflux
If you suffer from acid reflux, you can experience teeth sensitivity. When you have acid reflux, stomach acids can reach your mouth, impacting the coating on your teeth. Acid reflux medicines can also lead to dry mouth. With less saliva in your mouth, you lose a defense system that prevents bacteria growth and washes away food particles. Try to cut foods out of your diet that lead to acid reflux or seek relief that doesn’t cause dry mouth.
Sensitive Teeth Symptoms
If you find yourself asking, “Why are my teeth so sensitive?” you’re likely experiencing one or many sensitive teeth symptoms. These issues are painful, disruptive and noticeable, and include:
- Sudden, sharp tooth pain
- Sensitivity localized at one tooth
- Pain when biting or chewing
- Pain while brushing or flossing
These symptoms may appear randomly, depending on the severity of your condition. Sensitive teeth symptoms also appear when you expose your mouth to extreme temperatures.
Tooth Sensitivity to Cold
Most individuals with tooth sensitivity experience discomfort or pain with cold. Specifically, these factors can lead to pain:
- Cold foods and drinks
- Cold air
- Cold water during dental cleanings
The pain you feel from tooth sensitivity to cold may be mild, moderate or severe. It happens because the cold air, food or liquid contact the exposed nerves in your teeth, delivering a shock of pain. Cold sensitivity is disruptive and may cause discomfort while you’re trying to enjoy the foods and drinks you love or visiting the dentist for a regular cleaning.
Tooth Sensitivity to Heat
While you should see a dentist about any issues with sensitivity, tooth sensitivity to heat could be especially pressing. If you’re trying to enjoy a hot drink or a hot meal and notice sharp, sudden pain, it could indicate that a nerve is going bad. Tooth sensitivity to heat is a common warning sign of a nerve that will soon die and cause an abscessed tooth. An abscessed tooth could lead to infection in your jaw or teeth if left untreated.
Tooth sensitivity to heat can happen under less severe enamel wear, but if the pain lingers, you should visit a dentist as soon as possible.
Treating Tooth Sensitivity
To help prevent tooth sensitivity, you’ll need to take a few more steps beyond brushing your teeth. Try these products and methods for treating tooth sensitivity:
- Sensitive teeth toothpaste: If your symptoms are mild, try treating tooth sensitivity with toothpaste. Look for products specifically marketed and labeled for individuals suffering from sensitive teeth.
- Alcohol-free mouthwash: Mouth rinses with alcohol can irritate sensitive teeth. Choose a desensitizing rinse that doesn’t include alcohol.
- Soft toothbrushes: When you pick up a new toothbrush, look for a variety with soft bristles. That’ll help prevent you from wearing down your enamel as you brush.
- Brushing gently: In combination with a soft-bristle toothbrush, brushing gently helps maintain your enamel and prevent pushing your gums back.
If you use these methods and still notice sensitive teeth symptoms, talk to a dentist. They’ll recommend other ways for treating tooth sensitivity, such as prescription desensitizing toothpaste or mouth rinse. For severe symptoms, you may require fluoride, bonding, surgical gum grafts or a root canal.
Get Relief for Sensitive Teeth With Friedman Dental Group
If you think you may have sensitive teeth and want a diagnosis or are in need of treatment options for sensitivity, visit Friedman Dental Group. Our world-class service includes general, cosmetic, specialty, sedation and family dentistry, all with a calming dental experience. Relax and feel at ease in our offices as you get an expert opinion about your tooth sensitivity or other dental concerns.
Ready to seek a diagnosis and treatment options? Contact Friedman Dental Group or use the chat box to get in touch and learn more about our dental services today.
Last Reviewed By Dr. Eli Friedman on August 20, 2020