The Scoop on Teeth Sensitivity: Causes and Solutions

Do you regularly experience an unpleasant twinge when eating or drinking hot or cold foods or brushing your teeth? Tooth sensitivity can be very uncomfortable. But you do not have to suffer with the pain. Here, Dr. Robert Milner explains what causes this type of discomfort and what you can do to lessen it.

Common Causes

To understand why the teeth can be sensitive to hot or cold temperatures or brushing, it helps to understand the layers of tooth structure. The crown of a tooth (i.e., the part of the tooth that is visible outside the gumline) is covered in a hard, protective outer layer called enamel. Underneath the gumline, the tooth root is protected by a layer called cementum.

Enamel can wear away and the gums can recede due to a variety of factors, including vigorous brushing, chronic grinding or clenching, or decay. As the enamel wears away or the gums recede, the underlying softer layer of tooth structure, called dentin, is exposed. Dentin contains microscopic tubes or canals that lead to the dental nerves. If these tubes or canals are exposed to hot or cold temperatures or sticky or acidic foods, it can cause significant discomfort.

What Can Be Done About Sensitive Teeth?

If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, the first thing you should do is start using a desensitizing toothpaste to reduce pain and discomfort. These toothpastes contain potassium, which is thought to help block sensations from the tooth surface to the nerve. You might have to use the toothpaste a few times before noticing an improvement in your symptoms.

As you brush your teeth, refrain from using a hard-bristled brush or heavy hand, which puts too much pressure on the enamel and gums. Use a soft-bristle brush and make short, deliberate strokes.

Stay away from acidic foods and beverages, including soda, sticky candy, citrus fruits and pickles.

Avoid whitening toothpastes, strips or trays, as the chemicals in those products can make the teeth very sensitive.

If you know that you grind or clench your teeth while you sleep, get fitted for a custom mouth guard.

Finally, if you regularly experience tooth sensitivity, there could be a serious underlying cause (like a cavity or fractured tooth). It is a good idea to see your dentist for a check-up to determine whether an oral health problem is contributing to your discomfort.

To make an appointment with Dr. Milner, please call or email our office today.