Picture this. You’ve got your favorite hot, cold, sweet, or sour food or drink on hand ready to kick back, relax, and enjoy. As soon as you take a bite or sip, however, you’re immediately taken aback by a brain freeze sensation—only it’s happening to your teeth.
Yes, that’s what we like to call tooth sensitivity. It’s sharp. It’s jolting. And, it certainly leads you to wonder what’s causing it and how you can remedy it sooner rather than later.
In the most technical of terms, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), the cause is as follows: in healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth—the part above the gum line. And, under the gum line, a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Then, underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin.
Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum, these tubules allow heat and cold, or acidic or sticky foods, to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Therefore, the result can be hypersensitivity.
The good news is that it’s treatable! Now, when it comes to the common causes and how you can remedy it, that’s why we’re here—to give you the answers you need so you can get back to enjoying your favorite foods or drinks again.
What are the common causes of sensitive teeth?
There are many causes of sensitive teeth. So, the better question would be: what doesn’t cause it? Even so, I’m sure you want to get some answers. Take a look at this somewhat laundry list of possibilities.
- You’re brushing too aggressively. Doing this or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can tear away at your enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed (the protective covering of enamel or cementum).
- You have receding gums. If and when gum tissue pulls away from your teeth, the root surface then becomes exposed, which makes it easier to feel greater sensitivity.
- You have periodontal (gum) disease. Infected gum tissue and bones that support the teeth can cause sensitivity due to the separation of supporting ligaments, forming pockets that can host bacteria. It can then progress and leave the roots exposed.
- You’re grinding your teeth. When you grind or clench your teeth, it can also wear down the enamel (the hard surface that protects the nerves of each tooth), and expose underlying dentin.
- You’re currently using teeth whitening products. Bleaching your teeth will, without a doubt, contribute to any tooth sensitivity you’re experiencing.
- You’re frequently eating acidic foods and drinks. Frequent consumption of foods and drinks with a high acid content (think citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea) can erode the enamel on your teeth.
You’ve recently had a routine dental procedure. Sensitivity can occur after a teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and even tooth restoration. Any sensitivity caused by a dental procedure is not long-lasting, and typically resolves in roughly four to six weeks.
How can I remedy it from the comforts of my home?
Before all else, If you feel the cause of your sensitive teeth is either tooth decay, disease, or infection, please give us a call as soon as possible to be treated in our office (more on this in a bit). If not, there are a number of simple (and also natural), effective remedies you can try for yourself in the comforts of your own home.
- Use desensitizing toothpaste and/or gel. Potassium nitrate is a common ingredient in desensitizing toothpaste, and it’s used to block pain signals. You may have to try different brands of toothpaste or gel until you find the right one. No matter what, however, just be sure to use fluoridated toothpaste. Not tartar-control toothpaste. You can even provide some relief when it comes time to lay your head on your pillow by gliding a thin layer of it along the exposed roots of your problem teeth.
- Trade out your toothbrush for something softer. Brushing regularly can help keep your teeth in good shape. But, if you’re using a hard-bristled toothbrush, you could very well be doing more harm than good by aggravating your already sensitive teeth. So, trade it out for something softer and go easy when it comes time to clean them in the morning and evening.
- Test out essential oils. Essential oils provide many, many benefits. But, you might not have thought about how they can help alleviate sensitivity, have you? If not, try out these three most powerful oils for improving your teeth and gum health: peppermint, clove, and cinnamon. Add a drop of cinnamon or peppermint to your toothpaste. Or, combine one drop of clove, one drop of pure orange, and four drops of carrier oil for maximum effectiveness.
- Put a pause on the whitening treatments. You might be determined to get your teeth pearly white again. But, as mentioned earlier, it could be a common culprit of tooth sensitivity. Either consider taking a break, trying out a gentler formula, or spacing out your treatments.
Steer clear of acidic foods. Remember when we said that certain foods and drinks with a high acid content could erode the enamel in your teeth? Well, for that reason, go ahead and avoid them altogether—carbonated beverages, coffee, citrus fruits; you name it. If you can’t pass on your morning cup of joe or afternoon soda, use a straw to sip on it so you can restrict any opportunity the liquid has to come into contact with your teeth.
What about in-office treatments?
Unfortunately, if your tooth sensitivity isn’t resolved by using simple home remedies as shared above, you’ll need to make an appointment with us so you can get proper treatment. Here are the following ways we can help within our office:
- Apply fluoride. Fluoride is typically the first line of defense against sensitive teeth. What this means is a varnish will be placed on the exposed root surface of your tooth and stay on it for a minimum of two hours. This will work to strengthen the enamel and reduce pain. We may even suggest the use of prescription fluoride at home, which can be applied via a custom-fitted tray.
- Create a custom-fitted night guard. If you suspect your tooth sensitivity is the cause of nighttime grinding, you may benefit from having a custom-fitted nightguard created so you can protect your teeth from premature wear and tear.
- Conduct a crown, filling, or sedative filling procedure. Any of these, depending on the root cause, can help fix a tooth flaw or decay, and sealing off the surface and protecting the root that is causing your tooth sensitivity.
- Conduct a crown, filling, or sedative filling procedure. Any of these, depending on the cause, can help fix a tooth flaw or decay, and seal off the surface and protect the root that is causing your tooth sensitivity.
- Provide last-resort root canal therapy. If your case of tooth sensitivity is serious, and has not been resolved by other methods, we may suggest a root canal.
With the many remedies available—both at home and in the office—there’s no need to continue suffering from the sharp and jolting pain that is tooth sensitivity. Give us a call today, and we’ll be happy to consult with you to customize the best treatment based on your needs.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.