Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common dental complaints in the United States, affecting at least 40 million adults each year. While some experience only mild irritation, for others the pain is severe and restricts participation in everyday activities such as drinking hot or cold beverages, eating certain types of foods, or even going outside in cold weather. Regardless of the degree of severity of your tooth sensitivity, understanding the causes of this phenomenon can be invaluable to ensuring you get the care you need to ease your discomfort and enhance your quality of life.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
Your teeth are primarily composed of dentin, which sits beneath tooth enamel, and within the dentin are tiny tubes that contain microscopic nerve endings. If your enamel is worn away, these nerve endings are exposed and may be irritated by temperature changes or certain ingredients in foods and drinks. This may happen anywhere on the tooth, but the area below the gum line is particularly prone to sensitivity.
What Causes Enamel Loss?
Enamel is vulnerable to wear due to a variety of everyday activities and normal, unavoidable wear and tear. However, there are also specific risk factors for enamel degradation, including:
- Bruxism (jaw clenching and tooth grinding)
- Gingivitis and periodontitis
- Excessive acid exposure through soft drink and fruit drinks
- Excessive sugar and starch consumption
- Caries and cavities
- Compromised fillings
- Medications, including aspirin and antihistamines
- Acid reflux disease
- Dry mouth
- Genetic predisposition
- Brushing too hard
- Chewing tobacco
Often, sensitivity may the result of multiple factors that combine to increase your discomfort.
How Do You Treat Sensitive Teeth?
There are a growing number of commercial products on the market to help ease the discomfort related to tooth sensitivity and it can be tempting to simply buy a special toothpaste and consider yourself cured. However, because tooth sensitivity can arise from a range of causes and act as symptoms for a number of underlying conditions, it is important to speak with your dentist to determine the exact nature of your discomfort. Using sophisticated diagnostics, they will be able to give you a clear picture of your oral health, identify areas of concern, and create a treatment plan specifically designed for your needs.
Treatment may include:
- Filling a cavity or replacing a filling
- In-office fluoride treatment to support enamel remineralization
- Applying a dentin sealer to exposed root surfaces
- Scaling and root planing to promote gum reattachment
- Creating a night guard to prevent damage from bruxism
Sometimes, tooth sensitivity can occur even though there is no apparent cause found. In these cases, your dentist can still recommend a course of action to help you minimize irritation through either in-office treatments, at-home care, or a combination of both.
What Can I Do At Home?
If your tooth sensitivity is caused by behavioral or medical factors, you may need to make lifestyle changes to prevent future sensitivity and further degradation of your enamel and cementum. With the help of your dentist, you can devise a home care strategy that works for you. This can include:
- Practicing good oral hygiene, including brushing, flossing, and rinsing with a fluoride mouthwash
- Using a soft bristled toothbrush, taking care to not brush too hard
- Use a desensitizing toothpaste that blocks the tubes within the dentin
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Staying away from sugary and acidic drinks
- Changing medications to a more enamel-friendly alternative, if possible
- Promoting saliva production via saliva-stimulating products like Xylitol-containing chewing gum
Your dentist can refer you to specific practices and products she or he recommends.
The Importance of Regular Dental Visits
Regular dentist visits are a basic part of caring for your overall health and can be critical in helping you both prevent and treat tooth sensitivity. Professional cleanings and exams help you guard against tooth sensitivity by maintaining a healthy oral environment and protecting against enamel loss, periodontal disease, and cavities. Additionally, your dentist and hygienists are able to identify any changes and areas of concern that may be causing tooth sensitivity, allowing for early intervention to optimize outcomes and minimize the risk of major interventions down the line.
Dental Solutions in Fountain Valley
If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, we invite you to contact us at our Fountain Valley dental office. We offer comprehensive, compassionate dental care using state-of-the-art technologies to ensure that you receive the best treatment in a warm, inviting environment. We are always happy to answer any questions you may have and invite you to set up an appointment to meet Dr. Kvarnstrom and the rest of the team.