Tooth Sensitivity? Learn the causes, treatments and tips for prevention

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem that results in pain and discomfort. 

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem that results in pain and discomfort. 

A large number of new patients to our office report feeling tooth sensitivity and ask what causes it and what can be done about it.  I am happy to answer those questions in the office but also wanted to post something for patients to refer to when they are not in the office.

What is Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is the discomfort you may feel when you eat or drink anything hot or cold. You may also feel sensitivity when you breathe in cold air.  It is estimated that 35 percent of the U.S. population experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. To better understand tooth sensitivity let’s review the tooth anatomy.

Tooth Anatomy

The surface of the tooth is comprised of the tooth crown, the portion exposed above the gum line, and the tooth root, the portion underneath the gum line embedded in the jawbone. The crown portion of the tooth is covered in a thick shell called the enamel that protects the more sensitive inner layer called the dentin.

The above image shows the anatomy of a tooth including the crown and root portions.

The above image shows the anatomy of a tooth including the crown and root portions.

The root of the tooth is made of the dentin layer which is comprised of tiny tunnels called dentinal tubules. These tubules contain fluid and lead from the tooth root to the tooth's nerve center. This nerve center is called the pulp. When these tunnels are exposed (often due to recessed gums) to heat or cold, the tooth fluid can excite the nerve, causing pain in your teeth.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Some main causes for tooth sensitivity include:

1.      Plaque buildup and tooth decay along the gum line: The presence of bacteria in plaque and cavities trigger the body’s immune response.  This in turn causes redness and swelling of the gum tissue. As the infection progresses, the bone anchoring the tooth begins to shrink away from the site of infection and begins to expose the root of the tooth.

2.      Teeth grinding: Grinding or clenching can cause unnatural pressure on the teeth that lead to the gums receding and the enamel chipping off.

3.      Brushing teeth too hard: This can push the gum tissue down or wear down the enamel prematurely.

4.      Genetics: Genetic predisposition for gum loss or bone loss can cause sensitivity.

5.      Cracked or broken teeth.

6.     Highly acidic foods and beverages: Sodas, juices, fruits, and sugary snacks can contribute to cavities, which may cause sensitivity.

7.      Dental treatments: Sensitivity can happen after dental cleanings or treatments like tooth whitening. It usually goes away shortly after treatment ends.

Please see the video further below for a further description of the causes of tooth sensitivity.

How can tooth sensitivity be prevented?

1.      Brush and floss your teeth twice a day to prevent gum loss: Be sure to clean all parts of your mouth, including between teeth and along the gum line.

2.      Brush gently and use a toothbrush with soft bristles: This will help prevent gum loss and protect your enamel from being worn away.

3.      Avoid acidic foods and drinks.

4.      Fluoride treatments: Fluoride can be provided at your dental cleanings in the form of a varnish and used daily in your mouthwash and toothpaste. This ingredient is proven to increase the strength of tooth enamel, which helps resist erosion.

5.      Use toothpastes for sensitive teeth: You can also try a toothpaste with ingredients designed especially for sensitive teeth, such as potassium.  Studies show that these can be effective but it may take approximately 4 – 6 weeks for you to notice the difference.

6.      Fillings: White composite fillings can be used to help cover the exposed dentin layer and close off the dentinal tubules that are often involved in sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity can be annoying and painful and can affect your quality of life.  The sooner it is addressed the more comfortable you will be.  Dr. Shanna Chirco will examine your teeth and discuss the possible source of your specific tooth sensitivity and provide a resolution to meet your needs.

Call us today at (562) 430-7310 to schedule an appointment to address your tooth sensitivity or any oral healthcare needs.  We look forward to serving you!

Check out the above video from Oral-B. Oral-B A Mouth Full of Answers Presents - What Causes Tooth Sensitivity? Tooth sensitivity causes significant pain. Watch this video to know what precautions you must take to avoid it.