Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem that involves discomfort or pain in teeth when encountering certain substances and temperatures. At least 40 million adults suffer from sensitive teeth in the United States, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.
The pain is often sharp and sudden, but it is temporary. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the pain may shoot into the tooth’s nerve endings. Fortunately, sensitive teeth can be treated and the condition can improve.
A Few Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
According to the Cleveland Clinic, some factors that contribute to sensitive teeth may include:
- Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. This can wear down the enamel, causing the dentin to become exposed, or encourage gum recession.
- Gum recession. This often happens in people suffering from periodontal disease, and it exposes the dentin.
- Gingivitis. Inflamed and sore gum tissue can result in the exposure of the tooth’s root.
- Cracked teeth. These can become filled with bacteria from plaque and cause inflammation in the pulp of the tooth. In more severe cases, it may lead to abscess and infection.
- Teeth grinding or clenching. This can wear down enamel.
- Plaque Buildup.
- Long-term use of mouthwash. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids. If dentin is exposed dentin, the acids can make existing tooth sensitivity worse and also further damage the dentin layer. There are neutral fluoride mouthwashes available that might be a better option.
- Acidic foods. These can encourage enamel reduction.
- Dental procedures. Teeth may be sensitive after a professional cleaning, root planing, crown replacement, and other tooth restoration procedures. Usually, the pain will disappear in four to six weeks.
Tips to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
There are several types of treatment available. Proper diagnosis of the reason for the sensitivity is essential in treating sensitivity. If the reason for the sensitivity is addressed, the treatment chosen will be more successful in decreasing pain. If the dentist just treats sensitivity without addressing the reason for it the problem will continue and get worse.
The following are some at-home treatments suggested by the Cleveland Clinic:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. There are several brands of toothpaste for sensitive teeth available. Your dentist may recommend one or you may have to try different brands until you find the product that works for you. Be sure to use fluoridated toothpaste for sensitive teeth, not tartar-control toothpaste. Try spreading a thin layer of the desensitizing toothpaste on the exposed tooth roots before bed.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush.
- Avoid highly acidic foods.
- Use a fluoridated mouthwash daily.
- Avoid teeth grinding. Consider getting a mouth guard.
The following are some dental procedures that may reduce tooth sensitivity, according to the American Dental Association:
- Bonding, crowns or inlays. These may fix a tooth flaw or decay that is causing sensitivity.
- Fluoride gel or varnish.
- Surgical gum graft. This will protect the root and reduce sensitivity if the gum tissue has eroded from the root.
- Root canal. This is a last-resort treatment for severe tooth sensitivity that has not been helped by other methods.
The Cleveland Clinic also suggests getting dental sealants applied to the exposed root surface.