Maybe it’s an unpleasant sip of coffee or a piece of ice cream. Or maybe you’ve discovered that brushing your teeth has gradually become less comfortable than it used to be.
Whatever the case, if you’re experiencing discomfort or other new sensations when certain things come into contact with your teeth, it could be a sign of tooth sensitivity. Keep reading to learn what tooth sensitivity is, what causes it, steps you can take, and more.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity occurs when a tooth begins to lose its outer, protective surface. Healthy teeth have a protective layer of enamel on their surface above the gum line, and a protective layer of cementum below the gum line. Beneath both enamel and cementum is a layer of softer, more porous material called dentin, which surrounds the sensitive nerves inside your teeth.
When the enamel or cementum wears away, it allows temperature, food and drink to reach the nerves inside the tooth through the soft layer of the dentin.
What does tooth sensitivity feel like?
Tooth sensitivity varies from person to person. Some people only feel a small amount of it, but it is usually described as a sudden, sharp pain in response to certain triggers:
- physical trigger – If there is substantial exposure of the dentin or you brush particularly hard, brushing your teeth may become uncomfortable.
- temperature triggers Sometimes, temperature sensitivity can be a normal reaction to something that is too hot or too cold. It is a protective measure for our teeth. However, when the dentin is exposed, the discomfort can extend to less extreme temperatures, such as breathing in cold air through your mouth.
- chemical catalyst – Teeth may be sensitive to sugar and acid, or after using teeth whitening products such as toothpaste, strips or gel trays.
What causes sensitive teeth?
Tooth sensitivity can be caused by anything that exposes dentin, either by removal of enamel or by gingival recession. This may include:
- brushing your teeth too hard
- clench or grind your teeth
- frequent consumption of highly acidic foods and drinks
- frequent use of teeth whitening products
- natural gingival recession or gingival recession related to gum disease
- new or existing tooth damage, such as fractures, tooth decay, or worn fillings
how to treat sensitive teeth
How tooth sensitivity is treated depends on what factors are contributing to it. But there are some things you can do that usually have a deeper impact.
Brush your teeth properly with toothpaste for sensitive teeth
Proper technique of brushing teeth is important. It doesn’t really take that much pressure to remove plaque, but brushing too hard can actually remove enamel.
Therefore it is important not to brush too aggressively. Some dentists also recommend holding your toothbrush with only two fingers. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, brush gently in small circles, and avoid brushing straight to one side.
What’s in your toothpaste also matters. Regular use of fluoride — either in toothpaste or other dental hygiene products — helps keep existing enamel strong and helps rebuild weakened enamel. You can also buy toothpaste that is specially made for people with sensitive teeth. These toothpastes often include fluoride, as well as ingredients that reduce sensitivity when used regularly.
adjust your diet
Reducing the amount of acid in your diet (such as from citrus, wine, vinegar and carbonated drinks) can reduce the wear and tear of your enamel and reduce discomfort. You don’t need to eliminate acid completely—the goal is just to reduce the amount of time the acid is in contact with your teeth.
It may help to drink acidic drinks with a straw, and it may help to rinse your mouth with water after eating anything acidic. Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after consuming acidic food or drink, as the enamel is more vulnerable to exposure to acid.
see a dentist
Pain or sensitivity in your mouth is always a reason to see a dentist. They can give you recommendations on how to manage your sensitivity, but more importantly, they can identify and treat any underlying factors contributing to it, such as tooth decay or gum disease.
Take steps to improve tooth sensitivity
With extremely sensitive teeth, even the thought of brushing and flossing can be discouraging. But in addition to the recommendations above, it’s equally important that you stay on top of all of your general dental care — brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily, and making regular dental appointments. These practices are the foundation of your oral health, and help reduce or prevent conditions that may contribute to sensitivity and other issues.
Whether you’re experiencing sensitivity or are due for a checkup, your next step is to make an appointment.