- Teeth sensitivity is a common dental issue affecting 1 in 8 adults. It affects both men and women, typically starting between the ages of 20 and 50.
- It is characterized by discomfort or a sharp, sudden pain in the teeth when exposed to certain stimuli like hot or cold temperatures.
- Main causes include enamel wear, gum recession, and exposure of the tooth’s root.
- Good oral hygiene and specific dental products can help manage and reduce sensitivity.
- It is important to consult a dentist for persistent sensitivity as it may indicate an underlying dental issue.
What is Teeth Sensitivity?
Teeth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, is a dental condition characterized by discomfort or sharp pain in teeth when exposed to certain triggers. The pain is often sudden and sharp but is typically temporary. The following aspects provide a comprehensive understanding of this condition:
Anatomy of a Tooth
To understand teeth sensitivity, it’s crucial to recognize the structure of a tooth:
- Enamel: The outermost layer, which protects the tooth
- Dentin: Located beneath the enamel, it contains tiny tubules that lead to the tooth’s nerve center
- Cementum: A thin protective layer of bone-like tissue just under the gum line. It protects root of the tooth.
- Pulp: The innermost part, containing the tooth’s nerves and blood vessels
When the enamel is worn away or the gums recede, exposing the dentin, sensitivity can occur.
What Do Sensitive Teeth Feel Like?
Sensitive teeth are often described as having a sharp, sudden pain or discomfort in response to specific triggers. This sensation can be both alarming and uncomfortable, and it tends to occur without warning. The feeling is typically localized to one or more specific teeth and can range in severity from a mild tingling to an intense, sharp pain.
The sensation is usually temporary and often lasts only for the duration of the exposure to the trigger, such as while eating an ice cream or drinking a hot beverage. However, for some individuals, the sensitivity may linger for a longer period, causing persistent discomfort.
Symptoms and Triggers of Sensitive Teeth
The symptoms of sensitive teeth are specific and relatively easy to recognize.
1. Reaction to Temperature:
- Cold Sensitivity: This is one of the most common symptoms, often triggered by cold foods, beverages, or even cold air.
- Heat Sensitivity: Hot foods and drinks can also cause a sharp pain in sensitive teeth.
2. Sensitivity to Certain Foods:
- Sweet Sensitivity: Sugary foods might trigger discomfort in sensitive teeth.
- Acidic Sensitivity: Acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, or vinegar can cause a stinging sensation.
3. Sensitivity During Dental Care:
Brushing and Flossing: Sensitivity may occur during routine dental care, especially if using a hard-bristled toothbrush or aggressive technique.
4. Reactive to Pressure:
Biting and Chewing: Some individuals may feel discomfort or pain when biting or chewing, particularly on hard or crunchy foods.
5. Chronic or Recurring Sensitivity:
Persistent Discomfort: Though the sensation is often temporary, some individuals may experience chronic or recurring sensitivity in specific teeth.
6. Random Onset:
Unexplained Sensitivity: Sometimes, the sensitivity might occur without a clear trigger or reason.
The symptoms of teeth sensitivity can significantly impact daily life, affecting eating, drinking, and oral care habits. It can lead to avoidance of certain foods or beverages and may create anxiety around eating in social situations. Recognizing these symptoms is the first step in addressing the issue.
What Causes Sudden Tooth Sensitivity?
Teeth sensitivity arises from various factors, and understanding these causes is key to managing and preventing the condition.
- Overzealous Brushing: Using a hard-bristled toothbrush or brushing with too much force can wear down the tooth enamel, leading to sensitivity.
- Acidic Foods and Beverages: Frequent consumption of foods and drinks with a high acid content, like citrus fruits and sodas, can erode tooth enamel.
- Teeth Grinding: Grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel and expose the underlying dentin, leading to sensitivity.
- Plaque buildup: Excessive plaque buildup can cause tooth enamel to wear away, causing sensitivity.
- Mouthwash use: Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids that can make existing teeth sensitivity worse and damage the dentin layer.
- Gum Recession: When the gums recede, they leave more of the tooth’s root exposed, which can cause sensitivity because the root is not covered by enamel.
- Periodontal Disease: Gum disease or gingivitis can cause inflammation of the gums and, if untreated, can lead to receding gums and tooth sensitivity.
- Improper Brushing Techniques: Brushing too hard along the gumline can cause the gums to recede.
Dental Procedures and Conditions
- Tooth Whitening Procedures and Products: Some individuals may experience temporary sensitivity after tooth whitening procedures. This is because some teeth-whitening products (this includes OTC products) contain chemicals that can be harsh on your teeth and cause sensitivity.
- Recent dental procedures: Sensitivity is common after a dental procedure such as fillings, crowns, or teeth cleaning, but usually subsides after a few weeks.
- Cavities and Tooth Decay: Cavities or fillings near the gumline might contribute to sensitivity.
- Cracked Teeth: Cracked or chipped teeth can cause sensitivity because they can become filled with bacteria from plaque and cause inflammation in the pulp of the tooth.
- Age: Teeth sensitivity is more common in people between the ages of 20 and 50.
- Genetics: Some individuals may be genetically predisposed to sensitivity.
- Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as gastrointestinal reflux, may contribute to enamel erosion and sensitivity.
Does a Sensitive Tooth Mean Infection?
A sensitive tooth does not always mean an infection. However, persistent or worsening tooth sensitivity can sometimes indicate a more serious condition like a dental abscess or severe tooth decay that has reached the pulp of the tooth. This can cause significant pain and may require immediate dental attention. It’s crucial to differentiate between sensitivity that is a response to temperature or pressure changes, and pain that persists without any stimulus, as the latter could indicate an infection. If you experience severe, lingering tooth sensitivity or pain, you should consult your dentist as soon as possible.
Can Sensitive Tooth Pain Go Away?
Sensitive tooth pain can go away, but it largely depends on the underlying cause. In cases where the sensitivity is due to temporary factors such as a recent dental procedure, the discomfort usually decreases on its own after a short period. However, if the sensitivity is caused by more chronic issues like enamel erosion or gum recession, it might not spontaneously resolve and may require intervention to manage.
How Do You Stop Sensitive Teeth Pain?
There are multiple things you can try to stop teeth sensitivity:
- Use Desensitizing Toothpaste: These toothpastes contain compounds like Novamin that help to block the transmission of pain signals from the tooth surface to the nerve.
- Fluoride Treatment: Your dentist can apply fluoride to sensitive areas to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain.
- Maintain Good Oral Hygiene: Regular brushing and flossing can reduce plaque buildup, a cause of sensitivity.
- Proper Brushing Techniques: Avoid brushing your teeth too hard and use proper techniques to minimize enamel abrasion.
- Use a Soft-bristled Toothbrush: Using a toothbrush with soft bristles can help to reduce the effect of abrasion on the teeth and gums.
- Dietary Changes: Avoid consuming highly acidic or sugary foods and beverages as these can exacerbate tooth sensitivity.
- Use Fluoridated Dental Products: Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, which can help reduce sensitivity.
- Avoid Teeth Grinding: If you grind your teeth, your dentist may recommend a mouthguard to be worn during sleep to protect your teeth from further damage.
- See Your Dentist Regularly: Regular dental check-ups will help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
- Over-the-counter Pain Relief: Pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used temporarily to alleviate discomfort.
- Treating Medical Conditions That Cause Tooth Sensitivity: Conditions such as acid reflux or bulimia, which involve stomach acid coming into contact with the teeth, should be treated to reduce acid erosion on teeth.
- Root Canal Therapy: In severe cases where the sensitivity is due to deep decay or a damaged tooth pulp, root canal therapy may be necessary to relieve pain.
- Surgical Gum Graft: If the sensitivity is due to gum recession exposing the roots, this procedure can protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
Dental Procedures That May Help Reduce Sensitivity
There are several dental procedures that may help reduce sensitivity, depending on the underlying cause.
Here’s an overview of some common dental treatments for sensitive teeth:
- Fluoride Application: Fluoride treatments can strengthen tooth enamel, reducing sensitivity. This can be done in the dental office or at home with prescription fluoride toothpaste or mouthwash.
- Desensitizing Dental Products: Specialized toothpastes and mouthwashes containing desensitizing agents can block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, diminishing sensitivity over time.
- Bonding Resin: For teeth with exposed roots due to gum recession, a dental professional may apply bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces. This creates a protective barrier, reducing sensitivity.
- Dental Fillings: If sensitivity is due to a cavity or a worn-down filling, replacing or adding a dental filling can eliminate the problem. The choice of material may vary based on the patient’s needs.
- Root Canal Treatment: In cases of severe and persistent sensitivity that doesn’t respond to other treatments, a root canal may be recommended. This procedure removes the affected dental pulp, thus eliminating the sensation.
- Gum Grafting: If gum recession is the cause of sensitivity, a surgical gum graft might be advised. This procedure covers the exposed root, protecting it from triggers and reducing sensitivity.
- Night Guards: For those who suffer from teeth grinding (bruxism), which can cause sensitivity, a custom-fitted night guard can protect the teeth and reduce the stress on the enamel.
- Laser Therapy: Laser treatments are becoming increasingly popular for reducing sensitivity. This procedure can alter the tubules in the dentin, decreasing the sensitivity of the teeth.
- Occlusal Adjustment: Misaligned teeth may cause uneven pressure during biting, leading to sensitivity. Adjusting the bite can relieve this pressure, reducing sensitivity.
- Professional Cleaning and Dental Hygiene Instruction: Plaque and tartar buildup can contribute to sensitivity. Regular professional cleanings, along with instruction on proper at-home care, can help maintain oral health and reduce sensitivity.
The choice of the best treatment for dental sensitivity depends on a thorough examination and diagnosis by a dental professional. Understanding the specific cause of the sensitivity is essential in selecting the most effective procedure. Working closely with a dental professional, patients can explore these options and create a customized treatment plan. The goal is not just to alleviate the immediate symptoms but to address the underlying cause, providing long-term relief and promoting overall oral health. These dental procedures, combined with at-home care and regular dental check-ups, offer a comprehensive approach to managing and reducing teeth sensitivity.
When Should I See My Dentist for Teeth Sensitivity?
You should see your dentist for teeth sensitivity if:
- Severe or Persistent Pain: If the pain is severe or lasts for an extended period despite using desensitizing toothpaste or modifying your oral care routine.
- Pain After Dental Procedures: If you experience sensitivity after a dental procedure, it’s good to inform your dentist, especially if it does not improve within a few days.
- Damaged Teeth: If the sensitivity is accompanied by chipped, fractured, or visibly decayed teeth.
- Receding Gums: If you notice your gums receding or if the tooth roots are exposed.
- Change in Pain Character: If the nature of the pain changes or if it starts occurring spontaneously without any trigger.
Early diagnosis and intervention are essential in managing tooth sensitivity and preventing it from worsening. Your dentist can help to identify the underlying cause of the sensitivity and recommend the most appropriate treatment for your condition.
What Questions Should I Ask My Dentist?
When you visit the dentist for tooth sensitivity, it’s important to get all the information you need to understand and manage the condition.
Here are some questions you can ask:
- What is the cause of my tooth sensitivity?
- Is my tooth sensitivity indicative of an underlying oral health issue?
- What type of toothpaste, mouthwash, or other oral care products do you recommend for sensitive teeth?
- Are there specific foods or drinks I should avoid to help reduce sensitivity?
- How can I alter my brushing technique to alleviate sensitivity?
- Are there in-office treatments that can help to reduce my sensitivity?
- Do you think I need a dental procedure, like a filling, crown, or root canal to address my tooth sensitivity?
- Is my tooth grinding or clenching contributing to my sensitivity, and do I need a mouthguard?
- How often should I schedule dental check-ups to monitor my tooth sensitivity?
- What steps can I take at home to prevent my tooth sensitivity from getting worse?
- What should I do if my sensitivity suddenly increases or changes in character?
Tooth sensitivity is a common dental issue that can often be managed through lifestyle changes and proper oral hygiene. Tooth sensitivity is a common dental issue that can vary from mild to severe – persistent or severe sensitivity should be evaluated by a dentist as it may be indicative of underlying dental issues. Through proactive dental care and consultation with a dental professional, tooth sensitivity can be effectively managed and treated.
This article is complete and was published on June 16, 2023, and last updated on August 25, 2023.