Sensitive teeth are one of the most frustrating dental ailments of patients. One in eight adults suffer from sensitive teeth. At times, patients are unaware where the discomfort is coming from or why.
In this column, we will discuss sensitive teeth and steps to combatting this bothersome condition.
The most common complaint I hear is, “My teeth are sensitive to cold or hot things”. Many patients say their teeth may hurt more in an air-conditioned environment or when they breathe in cold air.
Tooth sensitivity, means your teeth overreact to some agent or activity more than normal. It isn’t just a random toothache or pain, but the outcome of something else. The most common causative agents for tooth sensitivity are temperature changes, touch, biting or when hitting your tooth against another object. Some people even have sensitivity when they eat certain foods, especially when they’re sugary, acidic or salty.
Factors causing tooth sensitivity:
Receding gums. If you’re over 40, it could be that your gums are showing signs of wear and tear by pulling away from your teeth and exposing your tooth roots. Roots don’t have enamel to protect them, so they’re much more sensitive than the rest of your tooth. Receding gums are usually caused by aggressive and incorrect brushing or using a hard brush.
Tell your dentist if your gums look like they’re receding. It can be a sign of other problems, like gum disease. Serious cases may require a gum graft to cover the exposed area. Using fluoride gels, medicine or toothpaste seals the dentin which creates a barrier between the outside surface and the inner pulp (nerve).
Gum disease. Plaque and tarter buildup on your teeth can make your gums pull back. Sometimes, disease occurs destroying the bony support of your tooth.
Smoking can lead to gum disease. To treat it, your dentist may do a deep cleaning of your teeth, called scaling. This removes the tartar and plaque below the gum line.
Cavity (tooth decay) or a cracked tooth. A cavity occurs when bacterial plaque produces acid that dissolves the enamel then exposes the dentin or the root surface.
This type of sensitivity is caused by bacterial plaque that remained in the crevices on your teeth or was stuck between your teeth or under the gums. The result is tooth decay.
Cracked tooth or large filling. When you break a tooth, the crack can go all the way down to your root. You’ll notice pain when your tooth is cold. How your dentist fixes the crack depends on how deep it goes.
What should you do?
Protecting your enamel is the first home remedy in treating teeth sensitivity. Enamel is the hard, protective layer that helps your teeth withstand the rigors of chewing. When it’s gone, nerve endings that causes pain are exposed in the underlying dentin. If you have sensitive teeth, it’s possible that some of your enamel has worn away.
Don’t brush too hard. Do you clean your teeth with heavy pressure? You might be removing more than just plaque. Side-to-side brushing right at the gum line can eliminate your enamel faster. You should use a soft-bristled brush and work at a 45-degree angle to your gum line to keep enamel clean and strong.
Avoid acidic foods and drinks. Soda, sticky candy and high-sugar carbs — all of these treats attack the enamel. Instead, you should snack on fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, cheese or plain yogurt. These foods will moisten your mouth and help fight acid and bacteria that can eat away at your teeth. Saliva is one way your mouth deals with them. Also, you can drink green or black tea or chew sugarless gum.
Do not clench or grind your teeth. Over time, grinding your teeth causes a wearing-away of your enamel. Addressing your stress level can also manage the problem. If this doesn’t work, your dentist can fit you for a splint or a mouth guard.
Once we discover the source of the problem, there are things your dentist can do or prescribe to help ease your pain, including:
- Toothpastes for sensitive teeth
- Fluoride gels
- Fillings that cover exposed roots
- Desensitizing pastes (not used with a toothbrush) you can get from your dentist
- Mouthguard to protect teeth if you grind your teeth
- In a serious case, a root canal might be suggested
Dental treatment should not be avoided when experiencing teeth sensitivity. Ignoring your teeth can make things worse and lead to other ailments. One should brush and floss twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush. Also, apply the proper brushing technique and see your friendly dentist twice per year. This goes a long way in keeping a healthy smile and improved quality of life.
Dr. Kendal V. O. Major is Founder and CEO of Center for Specialized Dentistry which is a comprehensive family dental practice operating in Nassau and Freeport. He is the first Bahamian Specialist in gum diseases and dental implants since 1989. He also is a certified Fast braces provider. His practice is located at 89 Collins Avenue, Nassau at (242)325-5165 or [email protected]