Tooth Pain Can Affect Your Eating, Drinking, and Breathing Habits
Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common complaints among dental patients. When you have sensitive teeth, certain activities, such as brushing, flossing, eating and drinking, can cause sharp, temporary pain in your teeth. Sensitive teeth are typically the result of worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots.
In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth—the part above the gum line. Under the gum line a layer called cementum protects the tooth root. Underneath both the enamel and the cementum is dentin.
Dentin is less dense than enamel and cementum and contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals). When dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum these tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to reach the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede. The result can be hypersensitivity.
10 Biggest Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Here’s why you could be experiencing this mouth malady:
You brush with too much gusto. Sometimes tooth sensitivity comes from brushing with too much force or with too hard-bristled a toothbrush. Over time, you can wear down the protective layers of your teeth.
You eat acidic foods. If the pathways to your nerves are exposed, acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, and pickles can cause pain.
You’re a tooth-grinder. Grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel, even though it’s the strongest substance in your body. By doing so, you expose the dentin. Talk to your dentist about finding a mouth guard that can stop you from grinding.
You choose tooth-whitening toothpaste. Many manufacturers add tooth-whitening chemicals to their toothpaste formulas, and some people are more sensitive to them than others.
You’re a mouthwash junkie. Like whitening toothpaste, some over-the-counter mouthwashes and rinses contain alcohol and other chemicals that can make your teeth more sensitive — especially if your dentin’s exposed. Solution: Try neutral fluoride rinses — or simply skip the rinse and be more diligent about flossing and brushing.
You’ve got gum disease. Receding gums, which are increasingly common with age (especially if you haven’t kept up with your dental health), can cause tooth sensitivity. If gum disease or gingivitis is the problem, your dentist may suggest a procedure to seal your teeth along with treating the gum disease itself.
You have excessive plaque. The purpose of flossing and brushing is to remove plaque that forms after you eat. An excessive build-up of plaque can cause your enamel to wear away. Again, your teeth can become more sensitive as they lose their enamel protection.
You’ve had a dental procedure. Teeth often become more sensitive after you’ve been in the dentist’s chair. It’s common to have some sensitivity after a root canal, an extraction, or the placement of a crown. If your sensitivity doesn’t disappear after a short time, another visit to your dentist is in order — it could be an infection.
Your tooth is cracked. A chipped or cracked tooth can cause pain that goes beyond tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will need to evaluate your tooth and decide the right course of treatment, such as a cap or an extraction.
There is decay around the edges of fillings. As you get older, fillings can weaken and fracture or leak around the edges. It’s easy for bacteria to accumulate in these tiny crevices, which causes acid build-up and enamel breakdown. See your dentist if you notice this type of tooth sensitivity between visits; in most cases, fillings can be easily replaced.
Don’t Put Up With the Pain; See Your Dentist
If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days and reacts to hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to get a diagnostic evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. Before taking the situation into your own hands, an accurate diagnosis of tooth sensitivity is essential for effective treatment to eliminate pain. Because pain symptoms can be similar, some people might think that a tooth is sensitive, when instead, they actually have a cavity or abscess that’s not yet visible. Your dentist can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain.
Steps to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
The good news is there are many ways to control sensitive teeth. Depending on the circumstances, your dentist might recommend:
Brush and floss regularly. Use proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brush gently and carefully around the gum line so you don’t remove gum tissue.
Use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Several brands are available. Regular use should make teeth less sensitive. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth usually contains a desensitizing agent that protects the exposed dentin by blocking the tubes in the teeth that are connected to nerves. In most cases, these products must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before any therapeutic benefits may be noticed. Another tip: Spread a thin layer on the exposed tooth roots with your finger or a Q-tip before you go to bed. Use a fluoridated toothpaste, not a tartar control one.
Watch what you eat. Avoid lots of highly acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits, wine and yogurt — all of which can remove small amounts of tooth enamel over time. When you drink acidic liquids, use a straw to limit contact with your teeth. After eating or drinking an acidic substance, drink milk or water to balance the acid levels in your mouth.
Use fluoridated dental products. Using a fluoridated mouth rinse daily can decrease sensitivity. Ask your dentist about products available for home use.
See your dentist every 6 months (or sooner, depending on your condition). Dentists have a variety of regimens to manage tooth hypersensitivity, including both in-office treatments and patient-applied products for home use.
Sources: WebMD, Mayo Clinic, Everyday Health, MouthHealthy.org, KnowYourTeeth.com, American Dental Association (ADA)
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