Millions of people suffer from sensitive teeth. Here’s what causes it and what you can do about it.
So, you just finished a hot cup of joe at your neighborhood coffee emporium. You walk back outside, and bam – your teeth are suddenly jolted with pain from the arctic chill in the air. Or, maybe you stopped by your local 16 Handles or Ample Hills Creamery to enjoy a yummy swirl of your favorite frozen confection. You experienced a mild case of brain freeze when you took your first bit, but what really made you cringe was the icy cold blast of discomfort that felt like it went right to the roots of your teeth. (Note: putting hot fudge on your ice cream won’t help – I’ve tried it.)
I just described the all too common phenomenon known as tooth sensitivity or, for those of us who work in the field of dentistry, dentinal hypersensitivity. If your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold, as described above, you know what it feels like, and it’s probably why you’re reading this article right now!
Millions of people experience sensitivity to hot, cold, sweets, and even touching, especially at the gum line. Here are the facts:
- 67% of people experience tooth pain from cold food or beverages.
- 35% of people experience tooth pain from hot food or beverages.
- 51% of people have teeth that are sensitive to cold air.
- 47% of people have teeth that are sensitive to sugary foods.
Why Causes Sensitive Teeth?
For most people, dentinal hypersensitivity develops over time. There are various reasons teeth can become sensitive such as receding gums, improper tooth brushing, acid erosion, tooth grinding/clenching (bruxism) and plaque build-up. In some cases, more serious problems like cavities, broken fillings or even inflamed or exposed nerves can be the cause.
Most of the time, sensitive teeth sensitivity results from the gradual exposure of dentin, called erosion. Dentin is close to the pulp of your teeth, which contains the ever-responsive nerve. The more dentin becomes exposed, and the deeper the erosive process, the more sensitive your teeth will become.
Teeth sensitivity can be characterized by an occasional twinge or daily recurring problems. That’s why it’s a good idea to see your dentist if your teeth are sensitive, especially if you haven’t had a dental exam in a while.
Sensitive Teeth Are Treatable
The most important thing to know is tooth sensitivity is a manageable and treatable condition. Start by becoming aware of what you may be doing to cause it and work to correct it. If you don’t get regular dental check-ups, forget to brush and floss your teeth, or notice that you grind and clench at night or during the day, start there.
Brushing your teeth too aggressively can also make them more sensitive. Brushing your teeth should be a gentle procedure done with a soft brush. Remember, you’re brushing your precious pearly whites – not scouring bathroom grout! (For a quick guide to brushing your teeth the right way, click here.)
A high-acid diet can also damage your tooth enamel. For a list of highly acidic beverages, you should stay away from or drink only occasionally, click here.
What Else You Can Do
To relieve some sensitivity, you may want to try one of the over-the-counter products found at the pharmacy, such as Sensodyne toothpaste. Sensodyne (and often store brands) can be highly effective in reducing sensitivity. You could also try an over-the-counter fluoride rinse, although prescription-strength fluoride is more effective).
If your teeth sensitivity does not respond to home remedies and you take good care of your teeth, see your dentist for an evaluation. Some conservative measures can be taken to remedy the situation, including desensitizing agents or even bonding problematic areas.
I cannot overstress the importance of seeing your dentist for regular cleanings and examinations – even if your sensitive teeth respond to the above recommendations.
– 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.