Don't Just Fight the Symptoms: Underlying Causes of Sensitive Teeth and Their Prevention

On a hot day, there's nothing quite like biting into a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone only to be hit with sudden, sharp pain from your sensitive teeth. Many people turn to special toothpastes to get rid of sensitivity in their teeth, but it's important to note that these toothpastes work by blocking the pain signal from being transmitted inside your teeth. Like taking ibuprofen for back pain, these toothpastes can help with the symptoms; however, it's better to prevent the underlying cause.

The center of your tooth is called the pulp, where the nerves are. The pulp is surrounded by dentin and then by hard, protective enamel. Tooth sensitivity is caused by exposed dentin; dentin is filled with tiny fluid-filled channels that run down to the nerves in the pulp. These channels can be disturbed by contact with hot or cold food and drink, and this irritation is passed on to the nerves in the teeth.

Worn Enamel

If the enamel on a tooth has worn thin or even worn away completely, the dentin underneath can be exposed and cause sensitivity. Enamel loss has many potential causes. It can be worn down if you grind your teeth or if you brush excessively hard, and trauma that causes your teeth to chip or crack can expose dentin as well. Not taking care of your teeth through regular brushing also leads to tooth decay as the bacteria in your mouth feed on plaque and produce acids.

Preventing worn enamel means, basically, having good oral hygiene. Brush and floss regularly and with the proper technique. Avoid too many sugary or acidic snacks and drinks, and make sure you drink enough water during the day. If you're having issues with enamel decay, your dentist may also suggest using toothpaste or mouthwash with added fluoride to help strengthen your enamel.

Receding Gums

Enamel doesn't extend far below the gum line. Ordinarily, this is no problem because the gum itself protects the dentin. However, if your gums are receding, you can end up with exposed dentin along the gum line. Sensitivity in multiple adjacent teeth is often caused by receding gums.

If your gums have receded far enough to expose the roots of your teeth, sensitivity isn't the only problem you'll run into. Bacteria can also get into your teeth through the unprotected dentin, leading to pockets of decay; loss of too much gum tissue can also lead to loose teeth and eventually loss of teeth.

Preventing your gums from receding is mainly done through flossing regularly and brushing properly. One of the most common causes of receding gums is gum disease (called gingivitis in its early stages and periodontitis in its advanced stages). Gum disease is caused by plaque building up around the gums, so keeping them clean is key.

And just as aggressive brushing can wear down enamel, it can also irritate and damage your gums. So don't try to make up for lost time by brushing too hard. If you brush and floss daily, even gentle brushing with a soft-bristled brush is enough to remove soft tartar buildup from your teeth before it turns into plaque.

 Temporary Sensitivity after Dental Work

Almost all dental work can make your teeth temporarily sensitive. Although you can't feel it because of the local anesthetic, it's stressful for the nerves in your teeth when you have work done like fillings or root canals, and they often become hypersensitive afterwards. This sensitivity should go away on its own within a couple of weeks. If it doesn't, you should make a follow-up appointment with your dentist, one like Claremont Dental Institute, as it could point to further decay within the tooth.