Preventing and Treating Tooth Sensitivity
September 18, 2023 Dentin hypersensitivity, tooth sensitivity for short, affects about 12.5% of Americans. The pain ranges from mild to severe, but even when the pain is severe, patients don’t always talk about it. Don’t be shy. When you talk to a dentist about tooth sensitivity, you’ll learn some solutions that help reduce the pain and make hot and cold beverages and foods easier to consume. While studies find that tooth sensitivity is more common in people between the ages of 18 and 44, it can happen to anyone. What causes it and how can you stop it from happening?
What Causes Dentin Hypersensitivity? A tooth is composed of the root, the dentin, and the protective enamel. Enamel protects the dentin from the foods and beverages you eat, but in some cases, the dentin isn’t as well protected as it should be. Dentin isn’t as dense or hard as enamel, and it contains tiny tubules that connect to the nerves. When hot and cold foods reach the dentin, it sends the sensation to the nerves, leading to the pain you feel. Many things can cause dentin to be exposed, including:
Worn enamel is a leading cause of tooth sensitivity. Lots of things can weaken your enamel.
- Cracks and chips
- Gum disease
- Missing or worn fillings
- Worn enamel
Tooth sensitivity can come and go. You may find your teeth are sensitive right after certain dental treatments. If you’ve just had a crown placed, fillings done, or your teeth whitened, they may be sensitive for a few days. You may have eaten something like an ice cube, and stopping that habit ends the problem with sensitivity.
- Brushing too hard
- Eating acidic foods
- Eating or drinking right before you brush your teeth
- Eating or drinking too soon after brushing your teeth
- Grinding your teeth when you sleep
- Having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Not brushing enough/poor oral care
What Can You Do to Treat Tooth Sensitivity? When you have tooth sensitivity, talk to a dentist to figure out why. Several solutions can help ease the discomfort.
Choose the Right Toothpaste: You might learn that toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth is all you need. Or, a toothpaste that helps strengthen enamel is another good option. Sometimes, a prescription toothpaste with a higher fluoride level is recommended. Your dentist can advise you on these options.
Rinse With an Alcohol-Free Mouthwash: If you use mouthwash, make sure it doesn’t contain alcohol. If you do use mouthwash, ask a dentist if it’s necessary. Ideally, you want a formula that is high in fluoride to help strengthen the enamel you have.
Use Soft Bristles: Look at your toothbrush. If it has medium or hard bristles, throw it away. Soft bristles are all you need as brushing too hard can damage your enamel and gums. If you can afford it, purchase a smart toothbrush that monitors your pressure and flashes a light when you’re brushing too hard. Make sure you’re brushing for two minutes twice a day.
In-Office Fluoride Treatments: Ask a dentist if fluoride treatments are right for you. Fluoride gel can help strengthen your tooth enamel and help ease the pain from sensitive teeth. Ask your dentist if this is a good option for your tooth sensitivity. Insurance may not cover this type of treatment in adults, so it’s something you may have to pay out of pocket for.
Schedule Twice-Yearly Dental Check-Ups: Make sure you are seeing a dentist twice a year for an exam and professional cleaning. If you’re not, you need to get set up with a dentist and start getting on a schedule for regular dental care. If you do have gum disease, you might be told to come to the office for up to four cleanings and exams each year.
Watch What You Eat: Avoid foods that weaken tooth enamel. Acidic food and beverages like pickles, citrus fruits, tomatoes, dairy products, and coffee should be used in moderation. If you have these foods and beverages, follow them with a glass of water to help rinse the teeth afterward. High-sugar foods like candies, cookies, soda, and cakes are bad for the teeth and not overly healthy options. Avoid them as much as you can. Don’t eat extremely crunchy items like ice cubes, popcorn kernels, and hard foods like Corn Nuts. You’re more likely to crack a tooth on them.
Brush an Hour Before or After Eating or Drinking: Right after you brush your teeth, it takes time for fluoride to help strengthen the teeth. After you eat or drink something, your enamel is softer than usual. If you’ve just had something to eat, wait an hour before you brush your teeth. If you brush your teeth before breakfast, let an hour pass before you have a meal, cup of coffee or tea, or glass of juice. Otherwise, you’re limiting the protective quality of the fluoride or enamel-strengthening toothpaste and mouthwash.
Consider Veneers or Sealants If you have chipped teeth or missing enamel, sealants or veneers may be a good option for reducing dentin sensitivity. Once you have them done, you do have to have them maintained every decade or so. Remember it is an investment and don’t forget to stay up-to-date with your dental appointments.
When Should I Be Worried About Tooth Sensitivity? Any tooth pain is worth worrying about, especially if it appears suddenly or is so painful that you can’t eat. You shouldn’t have to deal with constant discomfort. As tooth sensitivity may indicate the presence of gum disease, see a dentist. Gum disease affects almost half of U.S. adults aged 30 or older. The rates are even higher for adults aged 65 or older. When periodontal disease is in the gingivitis stage, it’s the best time to take preventative measures. As gum disease progresses and gums pull away from the teeth, bone loss and infection are risks. You can lose teeth. You cannot ignore gum disease. If you have questions about tooth sensitivity and treatments that can help ease your pain, schedule an appointment with Jody Jones DDS. Our dental team helps you uncover what’s causing tooth sensitivity and the best treatment option. You might need a filling or crown replaced. A chipped tooth might need to have a protective veneer placed over it to keep the nerves from being exposed to hot and cold foods and drinks. It may be gum disease or a root canal that needs urgent treatment. Dr. Jody Jones and his team are here to make sure you’re comfortable and have the smile you want. Don’t let tooth pain keep you from your favorite foods and daily routines. We can help ease tooth sensitivity and have a healthy smile.