Understanding Tooth Sensitivity: Causes, Solutions, and Prevention Tips

You noticed the last few times you’ve had a cold drink that your teeth hurt. At first, you ignored it, but it continues to happen and you don’t know how serious a problem it might be. You wonder if you should call your dentist.

It’s a good question. Sensitive teeth happen for a few reasons but you probably don’t know enough about it to decide how to proceed. In this article, we’ve broken down why your teeth develop sensitivity, how to deal with it, and how you can prevent the problem in the future. And, yes, we will answer the question about calling your dentist!

Tooth Sensitivity Overview

The inside of a tooth contains the dentin and pulp which are protected by the tooth enamel. Sensitivity develops when the dentin becomes exposed. This can happen for a variety of reasons: normal erosion over time, receding gums, cavities, cracked teeth, or gum disease.

This sensitivity doesn’t always mean there is an infection in the tooth, no matter how worrisome the situation may be. The pain might be a dull ache or it can be a sharp, throbbing pain. It might only happen when you drink or eat something really cold or maybe it’s only hot food or drink that bothers you. In some cases, the pain is only present when you eat sweets.

In any case, pay attention to it. There are some actions you can take on your own that might help. But, if your tooth pain is persistent or worsens or you simply need some reassurance, call your dentist right away and describe the problem. 

Tooth Sensitivity Causes

There are many things that can result in your teeth becoming sensitive. Some are preventable and can be affected by some changes in your oral health routine. Others, however, need the attention of your dentist.

Here are the primary causes of tooth sensitivity:

You Brush Your Teeth Too Vigorously

As you age, the enamel on your teeth ages too. This causes the dentin to become exposed and it can also cause your gums to recede. If you brush your teeth too vigorously, the normal wearing away is sped-up unnecessarily.

You Use a Hard-Bristled Toothbrush

A hard toothbrush might feel as if you are doing a good job brushing, but you are actually doing unnecessary damage to your teeth. The enamel is being worn away too quickly by the brush and your gums are being adversely affected, too. 

Your Gum Are Receding 

The gums pulling away from your teeth and exposing the roots may be a genetic issue for you. Or receding gums may point to periodontal disease, which is usually the result of poor oral hygiene. The roots of the affected teeth become exposed when the gums no longer tightly hug the teeth. 

You Have Gum Disease

As the gums deteriorate, the ligaments that support the teeth are also affected which then exposes the nerves in the tooth. The roots of the teeth become exposed, inflamed, and painful.

You Grind or Clench Your Teeth 

Both teeth grinding and clenching wears down the tooth enamel. As the enamel disappears, the dentin inside the tooth is exposed, leading to sensitivity and pain.

You Have Cracked Teeth

If you have one or more teeth that are chipped or broken, the affected teeth are open to bacteria working their way into the pulp. This leads to inflammation and infection, both of which are painful. Heat or coldness in your mouth calls your attention to it.

You Are an Adult

Yes, tooth sensitivity is often the result of the normal aging process. Studies indicate that most cases of sensitivity begin between the ages of 20 and 50. Adults have had time for their tooth enamel to begin wearing down, which leads to receding gums and sensitivity.

You Use Teeth Whitening Products

Who doesn’t want whiter teeth? But you need to know that using a DIY tooth whitening treatment is a common cause of sensitive teeth. Ask your dentist for names of products you can use for sensitive teeth as you whiten.

You Have Plaque Buildup on Your Teeth

Plaque is a result of less-than-stellar oral hygiene at home. It is sticky and made up of food particles mixed with saliva. If your brushing habits aren’t as good as they should be, this plaque builds up on your teeth. It contains bacteria, which then work its way into your teeth. If you don’t brush properly after meals, it begins to form and build up on your teeth. This is problematic because plaque can result in sensitive teeth.

You Use an Acidic Mouthwash

If the dentin in your teeth has become exposed, the acid in many types of over-the-counter mouthwashes only makes sensitivity worse. Check out a mouthwash for sensitive teeth, instead. It will contain ingredients that help numb nerve endings and strengthen tooth enamel.

You Have a High Intake of Acidic Foods

If you consume a lot of acidic foods and drinks, you are hurting your teeth! They all erode the exterior enamel on your teeth. Some acidic items include:

  • Sugary drinks, soda, energy drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks
  • Hard and chewy candies
  • Coffee
  • Pickled foods
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Alcohol
  • Certain fruits, like lemons, grapefruits, oranges, limes, pineapples, and grapes
  • Ice
  • Apple cider vinegar

You Have Had Recent Dental Procedures

If you have had a recent dental procedure, like a deep cleaning, your teeth may be sensitive for a few weeks. But this discomfort is only temporary. If it gets worse or lasts longer than a couple of weeks, check with your dentist right away.

Tooth Sensitivity Solutions

Now that you know some of the major causes, you’re probably wondering how to stop tooth sensitivity. Depending on your own dental and personal history, your dentist might recommend one or more of the following tooth sensitivity solutions:

  • Use a desensitizing toothpaste – Ask your dentist for suggestions on the best toothpastes for sensitive teeth.
  • Take advantage of the power of fluoride – Your dentist might apply fluoride directly to your teeth or they may suggest the use of prescription fluoride at home.
  • Desensitizing or bonding treatment – Bonding resin can be applied to exposed root surfaces to help desensitize them. 
  • Improve your oral hygiene – Use proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush – Avoid vigorous or harsh scrubbing and abrasive toothpaste. 
  • Wear a mouthguard at night – If you grind your teeth, you can fracture teeth which will cause sensitivity. Wearing a mouthguard at night can protect your teeth.
  • Limit acidic foods and drinks – Avoid these harsh items and drink water afterward when you do eat or drink something acidic. Using a straw can also help keep acidic fluids away from your teeth.
  • Surgical gum graft – When needed, your dentist can graft healthy gum tissue in places that have become detached and are causing tooth pain. 
  • Root canal procedure – Your dentist might recommend a root canal to treat problems in a tooth’s pulp.

You Don’t Have to Suffer Alone!

Several different things can cause teeth sensitivity: worn enamel, exposed roots, cavities, cracks, and recent dental procedures. Some of these issues you can tackle on your own at home, like trying a desensitizing toothpaste and improving your oral hygiene. Other causes need the attention of your dentist.  

Here at TLC Dental in Cherry Hill, we are ready to help with bothersome teeth sensitivity caused by problems like receding gums, cavities, or cracked teeth. Our dental team will assess your situation, determine exactly what’s causing your sensitive teeth, and recommend the appropriate treatment to address the issue and give you some relief.

We are here for all of yours and your family’s dental health needs. For any questions you may have or to schedule an appointment, contact us today!