No matter how tough you are, tooth sensitivity can make anyone, well, sensitive. As uncomfortable as sensitive teeth can be, luckily there are some pretty straightforward ways to overcome this common problem.
The Academy of General Dentistry estimated that at least 45 million Americans deal with sensitive teeth, and found that the condition is more common in women than in men. The most common triggers for this brief shooting pain are hot and cold food or drink, cold air, and even brushing your teeth!
So what causes sensitivity?
Healthy teeth are protected on the surface by a layer of enamel, the strongest substance in the human body. And under your gums is another substance, called cementum, that protects the roots of your teeth. Beneath that enamel is dentin, an almost porous substance that contains microscopic tubules.
When the enamel or cementum is worn down, the tubes and channels in dentin allow hot, cold, acidic and sweet food and drinks to reach the nerves inside the tooth, creating that uncomfortable sting of pain.
Untreated cavities and cracked teeth can also leave the dentin exposed and in this case, sensitivity may be a sign of something more serious with your tooth. Gum disease can also leave you exposed to sensitivity at the less protected roots.
How do I treat sensitivity?
Luckily there are many over-the-counter toothpastes to choose from that can help desensitize your teeth. Just be sure to select one that bears the ADA seal of approval to be certain it’s safe for you. It can sometimes take up to a month for you to notices changes from a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, so give yourself time to adjust.
If after a month, you’re still having trouble with sensitivity, it’s time to come in and see a dentist. We have more options in the office for managing your sensitivity such as fluoride varnishes, bonding resins, and even more extensive options for advanced gum tissue loss like gum grafts.
Sensitive teeth can also be a symptom of a bigger problem and could require more in-depth treatment such a root canal. While root canals can seem scary, it’s the only treatment which is shown to do away with sensitivity for good. It all depends on your individual situation so consult with your dentist to find out which treatment course is best for you.
How do I prevent sensitivity in the future?
Avoiding sensitivity in the future is easy once you have the right tools. Make sure your oral health kit is fitted with what you’ll need to keep your teeth sensitivity-free:
- Soft bristled toothbrush. Brushing too hard or with too-tough bristles can wear down enamel and damage your gums. We only recommend soft-bristled toothbrushes, because at the end of the day, it’s all you need to clean your teeth. Replace the bristles every three months as they become worn. We’re a big fan of the Oral-B Genius, which comes with sensitive brush heads and a sensor that tells you if you’re being too rough. Learn more about it here.
- Desensitizing toothpaste. What’s unique about this kind of toothpaste is the inclusion of potassium, which is thought to calm down the excitability of the nerves in your teeth. While most toothpastes contain fluoride, it’s especially important for strengthening and protecting sensitive teeth. It will work best if you’re brushing twice a day.
- Nightguard for grinders. If you grind your teeth at night, you could be wearing away enamel and leaving your teeth vulnerable. Get a night guard to protect your teeth.
- Smart snacks. There are a number of foods and drinks that can trigger the pain with sensitive teeth so try to indulge in sugary, fizzy, and acidic foods and drinks less often, and at mealtimes. Additionally, wait a little while longer after you eat to brush your teeth so that you’re not brushing abrasive or acidic substances into your enamel.
- Approach whitening treatments with caution. While whitening treatments are available over-the-counter and in-office, they all contain varying levels of carbamide or hydrogen peroxide, which can leave your teeth feeling even more sensitive. Want to know more about whitening and what option might be best for you? Read our blog here.
And while sensitive teeth are never fun, treating them is typically simple and can be done at home. Just remember that if your sensitivity persists to give us a call so we can get you in and get you feeling better.