So, you just finished a hot cup of joe at your neighborhood Starbucks and walk outside into the winter cold. You are briskly charged by the caffeine surging through your bloodstream when suddenly your teeth are jolted with pain by the arctic chill in the air.
Or, maybe you stopped by the local 16 Handles or Tasti-Delite to enjoy a tasty swirl of your favorite frozen yogurt and along with a mild case of brain freeze (see my previous blog about the causes of brain freeze) and you cringe with discomfort as your teeth are enveloped with cold (and putting hot fudge on your ice cream is not the answer!)
What I just described is an all too common phenomenon known as Tooth Sensitivity or Dentinal Hypersensitivity. The shrill sound of chalk screeching on the blackboard is a good metaphor for the disquieting feel of a hypersensitive tooth response and if you have it, you’re not alone.
- 67% of people experience pain to cold food or beverages
- 35% of people experience pain to hot food or beverages
- 51% of people are sensitive to cold air
- 47% of people are sensitive to sugary foods
Teeth can be sensitive to hot, cold, sweets, and even touching (especially at the gum-line) for a variety of reasons that include serious problems such as cavities, broken fillings or even inflamed or exposed nerves. But most of the time tooth sensitivity is not a serious dental health problem but rather, an uncomfortable nuisance. Although it’s not a disease, Tooth Sensitivity is a very common dental problem.
Dental Hypersensitivity can develop over time for a variety of reasons including receding gums, improper tooth brushing, acid erosion, and tooth grinding. It can present itself as an occasional twinge or a daily recurring problem and can take the enjoyment out of eating or drinking some of your favorite foods.
Tooth sensitivity is caused by the gradual exposure through wear of the dentin. Since dentin is closest to the pulp of the tooth that contains the ever responsive nerve, the more dentin that is exposed and the deeper the erosive process, the more sensitive teeth will be.
Take heart in that tooth sensitivity is manageable and treatable. First of all, be aware of bad habits like poor oral hygiene, overly aggressive brushing, and acidic diets. Secondly, there are over-the counter products like Sensodyne toothpaste which is highly effective in reducing sensitivity. Fluoride rinses available over the counter can also decrease sensitivity, but sometimes presription stength fluoride is more effective.
If the problem does not respond to these home remedies, see your dentist for an evaluation. There are a number of conservative measures he/she can take to remedy the situation including the application of desensitizing agents or even bonding the most problematic areas.
I cannot overstress the importance of seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and examinations (plaque build-up is a big culprit in tooth sensitivity.) And if the problem persists or if the discomfort lasts beyond a fleeting moment, see your dentist to make sure that something more serious is not going on.
But don’t get lulled into a false sense of security by these numbers because over 50% of people do not see a dentist regularly.
Remember tooth brushing is a gentle procedure to be done with a SOFT brush-you are not scouring the bathroom grout!). For a quick guide to brushing your teeth the right way, click here.
Drinking acidic beverages such as Diet Coke can erode your tooth enamel. For a list of acidic beverages that can damage teeth, click here.
Disclaimer: I do not have any financial interests in Sensodyne. (unfortunately)
– Michael Sinkin
Dr. Michael Sinkin is a NYC dentist that has been in practice for over two decades. He truly cares about the experience his patients have and takes great pride in making them feel relaxed and comfortable during every visit. Come in for an appointment and experience a different kind of dental practice. To find out more about Dr. Sinkin, please click here.