Sensitive teeth can ruin some of life’s simplest pleasures. Your morning cup of coffee or a glass of ice water after a workout can change from blissful moments to instant agony if one of your teeth becomes sensitive.
So what causes tooth sensitivity? And what can you do to prevent it? As you’ll soon see, tooth sensitivity has many possible causes and, thankfully, just as many potential treatments.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
There are many ways in which teeth can become sensitive. Above the gum line, a healthy tooth is protected by a hard outer shell of enamel. Enamel covers the calcified but living tissue, called dentin, which makes up the majority of your tooth. Dentin contains a series of tiny tubes (tubules) that connect directly to the tooth’s nerve.
If the enamel on a tooth wears away, it can leave the tubules exposed. These tubules will respond to heat, cold, sweet, sour, and spicy foods and beverages with varying degrees of pain. If left untreated, these teeth will begin to show signs of decay, such as cavities and infection, and could even lead to tooth loss.
Below the gum line, the roots of your teeth are covered with a layer of calcified material called cementum, which helps keep your tooth in place. Despite its name, cementum isn’t nearly as durable as enamel. If exposed, it can quickly wear away, leading to similar problems as mentioned above.
Structural problems can also cause sensitive teeth. These are usually more obvious than loss of enamel or cementum and include:
- Chipped or cracked teeth
- Loose or missing fillings
- Cavities, infections and other signs of tooth decay
- Worn teeth caused by tooth grinding
- Periodontal (Gum) Disease
Treating Tooth Sensitivity
Once you’ve determined the cause of your tooth sensitivity, you should be able to find an appropriate method of treatment. Your dentist can recommend the best way to address your needs.
Obviously, if your tooth has suffered physical damage of some kind, you’ll need to get it repaired. But other painful tooth sensitivity problems may respond to the following:
- Desensitizing toothpaste: Usually dulls pain after several uses. A few brands are commercially available, including the well-known Sensodyne.
- Fluoride treatments: Applying fluoride directly to the sensitive area can help strengthen enamel and thus reduce pain. This procedure can be done at the dentist’s office or home.
- Bonding: Sensitivity can be reduced by applying a composite resin to the tooth’s surface and creating, in essence, an artificial enamel.
- Gum grafting: If gum disease is causing your sensitivity issues, this method may be appropriate. A small amount of gum tissue can be taken from a healthy area of your mouth and grafted to the troublesome area, protecting the root of the sensitive tooth.
- Root canal treatment: Severe tooth pain may be the result of infection inside the tooth. In this case, a root canal is the most effective method of dealing with sensitivity. And while the procedure still instills fear in the squeamish, the procedure has advanced dramatically and is now almost entirely painless.
The best way to treat tooth sensitivity is not to get it in the first place. Remember to brush twice a day and floss once, and visit your dentist twice a year. Avoid highly acidic foods and sugary drinks as much as possible, and be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush. And pay attention to excess wear that indicates you’re grinding your teeth. If so, your dentist can fit you with a mouthguard or suggest other treatments.
South High Dental
If you’re suffering from tooth sensitivity, we can help. At South High Dental, we take pride in your smile. We offer comprehensive oral care, from simple cleanings to complex cosmetic procedures, and take the time to make sure you have the information you need to make informed decisions about your treatment. To learn more or make an appointment, call 614.363.2462 now.