What is Tooth Sensitivity?

If you’ve ever cringed at the thought of drinking hot coffee, or taking a big bite of freezing cold ice cream, you’re not alone. Believe it or not, more than 40 million adult Americans report feeling tooth pain when eating very hot or cold foods. This pain is known by dentists as tooth sensitivity, and luckily for you, it’s very treatable.

What is tooth sensitivity?

To understand tooth sensitivity, you first have to understand a little bit about the composition of your teeth. Your teeth, most basically, are made up of hard enamel on the outside, and soft dentin on the inside. This dentin contains all kinds of sensitive nerves that can be stimulated by hot and cold sensations. When your enamel exposes the dentin, or when your gums recede back from your teeth, again exposing the dentin, hot and cold foods can stimulate the nerves that have been exposed, causing you pain that we call tooth sensitivity.

How did I get tooth sensitivity?

There are many reasons that people develop tooth sensitivity, some that are identifiable, and others that aren’t. The most common causes are:

  • Aggressive brushing – If you brush your teeth too vigorously every day, or if you use abrasive toothpastes, you can wear down the hard enamel on the outside of your teeth, which exposes your nerves and causes tooth sensitivity. One way to tell if you’re an aggressive brusher is to look at your toothbrush. Are the bristles splayed out in all directions? You’re probably brushing with too much force.
  • Tooth decay – Over time, your teeth age, just as your body does. But if you have a lot of tooth decay that has to be seen to, as in cavities and fillings, it’s possible that those could be causing your sensitivity. When cavities and fillings get worn, or when you have broken teeth, your dentin is easily exposed. Talk to your dentist if your fillings seem loose or if you’ve broken a tooth.
  • Tooth erosion – If you have a diet that consists of a lot of highly acidic foods, your teeth are more easily eroded. Additionally, acidic foods are more likely to trigger tooth sensitivity since they can also stimulate the nerves in your dentin, causing pain. If this is the case, try to cut down on the amount of acidic beverages and foods you ingest.
  • Gum recession – This is a common phenomenon that happens naturally as you age. Your gums recede over time, but if you don’t have the best oral hygiene routine, sometimes this can be accelerated. When your gums recede, they expose the dentin in your teeth. This is an issue that is best addressed by your dentist. They can offer you several options to remedy your discomfort.
  • Teeth grinding – If you’re a frequent teeth grinder, this could easily cause tooth sensitivity, as grinding erodes the enamel on your teeth, which is protecting those sensitive nerves. Your dentist might recommend a bite guard, or if your situation is more advanced, they may recommend a few different in-office treatments.

While there are many other causes of tooth sensitivity, these are the most common, and the ones that are most likely to be bothering you. Additionally, sometimes tooth sensitivity can appear for no apparent reason, and it can be difficult to explain what caused it. Although this is an issue, most tooth sensitivity cases can be handled regardless of cause.

How can I treat my tooth sensitivity?

There are a few ways to treat tooth sensitivity, and luckily, most tooth sensitivity cases are easily treated with over-the-counter products. In some instances, however, you may need an in-office treatment from your dentist. The best way to know what will work for your tooth sensitivity is to talk to your dentist. They may suggest one of the following options:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste – This is by far the easiest and most accessible way to treat tooth sensitivity. The toothpaste itself contains components that block the nerves in your teeth from receiving sensations from hot or cold foods. While it may take a couple of days, it is an easy, relatively hassle-free way to tackle tooth sensitivity.
  • Fluoride gel – This is a treatment generally administered by your dentist. Fluoride gel is brushed onto your teeth, which helps strengthen your tooth enamel, and blocks nerves, reducing the transmission of sensations.
  • A crown, inlay or bonding – If your tooth sensitivity occurred from a faulty tooth or failed filling, one of these procedures, done by your dentist, will get everything back to normal. They generally correct a flaw or opening left by a broken tooth or tooth decay.
  • Surgical gum graft – If you’ve lost a lot of gum tissue, or your gums have receded significantly, this is a procedure that will restore your gum line back over that sensitive tissue, protecting the root and reducing sensitivity.

In any situation of tooth pain, you should contact your dentist. If your tooth sensitivity seems localized to just one area, this could be a symptom of a greater problem, like an abscess or cavity. This is why it’s best to talk to your dentist. They will be able to accurately diagnose the issue, and provide you with the best, most effective solution. If you follow their directions, you’ll be back to drinking hot coffee and eating ice cream in no time!
If you’ve been experiencing tooth pain or sensitivity, give the Creason & Weber office a call at (616) 842-0822. We always welcome new patients, and you can even contact us online!

Drs. Creason, Weber & Mountford
333 Jackson St #A
Grand Haven, Michigan 49417

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