November 14, 2018

Causes of and Treatments for Sensitive Teeth

Tooth sensitivity is certainly not pleasant, and it can be a real deterrent to eating certain foods or even properly cleaning your teeth if you are experiencing pain when doing so. It’s important to understand the reasons why you may be experiencing sensitivity, so that you can go about improving the situation.

Causes of tooth sensitivity
Following are some of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity:

Grinding or clenching your teeth
The symptoms of grinding or clenching your teeth often start with things like headaches and a sore jaw. Over time, these actions can cause both the wearing down of tooth enamel and gum recession, both of which can lead to tooth sensitivity. Read more about this and other TMJ disorders here.

Gum recession
Sensitivity can be one of the first signs of gum recession, which causes the root surfaces of your tooth to become exposed. There are a number of reasons your gums may start to recede, such as:

  • inadequate oral hygiene
  • gum disease
  • aggressive tooth brushing or using a toothbrush with very stiff bristles
  • hormonal changes, such as pregnancy or menopause
  • genetics  
  • crooked teeth or a misaligned bite  

Enamel reduction
The crown of your tooth is the main part of the tooth that is visible above your gums, and it is covered in a material called enamel. Many people don’t know that enamel is actually the hardest substance in the human body! Enamel is very important to the health of your tooth.

The wearing down of your tooth enamel can cause sensitivity. Enamel can be worn down by actions like:

  • grinding or clenching your teeth
  • aggressive tooth brushing or using a toothbrush with very stiff bristles
  • long-term use of acidic mouthwash or foods
  • tooth decay

Whitening or other dental procedures
Your teeth may be sensitive following a whitening procedure, root canal therapy, filling or filling replacement, or tooth restoration like dental implants or dental crowns. This type of sensitivity should be temporary, and if you are still experiencing this after 2-3 weeks, you should give us a call.

Treating sensitive teeth and desensitizing toothpastes
How you treat the issue depends on the cause, but the good news is that it is possible to manage sensitivity!

Desensitizing toothpaste
These toothpastes can be very effective for treating tooth sensitivity to hot or cold drinks and food by reducing the tube-like channels that pass through the teeth and connect to nerves, or reducing the ability of the nerves to transmit pain. For people who have gum recession, these products work by providing extra protection on the sensitive, exposed root surfaces. The active ingredient in desensitizing toothpastes is most often 5% potassium nitrate.

It will take about four to six weeks of twice-daily use before you notice any sensitivity improvement, and these toothpastes are not effective when used only periodically.

Foods and mouthwashes
Avoid highly acidic foods, and try using a fluoridated mouthwash, if recommended by your dentist.

Dental devices and procedures
If tooth grinding is an issue for you, you can talk to your dentist about whether a mouth guard is a good option. Bonding, crowns, or inlays can help to reduce sensitivity if caused by a flaw or defect in your tooth. Surgical gum grafts can be done to repair gum recession.  

If your teeth are experiencing sensitivity, it’s important to come in to see your dentist to make sure there isn’t a more serious problem, and to talk about the best solution. Book an appointment here.