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Sensitive Teeth

Are Your Teeth Sensitive?

Does eating ice cream or drinking hot beverages someitmes make you wince with pain? If so, you may have a common problem called "sensitive teeth." At least 45 million adults in the United States suffer at some time from sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity is discomfort in one or more teeth that is triggered by hot, cold or sweet foods and drinks; brushing or whitening your teeth or even by breathing in cold air through your mouth.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Enamel protects the crowns of healthy teeth and a layer called cementum protects the tooth root under the gum line. Underneath the enamel and the cementum is dentin.The dentin contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals) that contain nerve endings. When the dentin loses its protective covering, these nerve endings can become exposed and hypersensitive.

There are many factors that may lead to sensitive teeth, including:

  • Brushing too hard. Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed. It can also cause recession of the gums (the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth) and exposed root dentin.
  • Too much toothpaste. Toothpaste has abrasive. It is like brushing with Comet. Excessive toothpaste brushed on your teeth will wear teeth and cause sensitivity.
  • Tooth decay near the gum line. The presence of bacterial plaque releasing acid on the root surfaces can cause sensitivity and tooth decay.
  • Recession of the gums. As gums move away from a tooth due to conditions such as periodontal disease, teeth grinding or excessive brushing, the root becomes increasingly exposed.
  • Cracked teeth. Chipped, broken or cracked teeth can expose dentin nerve endings.
  • Teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth wears away the enamel and exposes underlying dentin as well as causes gum recession and teeth to crack and break.
  • Tooth whiteningproducts (toothpastes, mouthwashes and strips/gels). These products are notorious causes of sensitive teeth.
  • Acidic foods. Regular consumption of foods with a high acid content (such as citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, white grapes, fruit jelly, soda and even many flavored waters) can cause enamel erosion.
  • Recent routine dental procedures. Sensitivity can occur following teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and tooth restoration.Sensitivity caused by dental procedures is temporary, usually disappearing within four to six weeks.

What Can I Do to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity?

Proper oral hygiene is the key to resolving sensitive-tooth pain. If you brush your teeth incorrectly or brush excessively, gum recession and tooth abrasion can result. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine.

Some steps you can take to prevent tooth sensitivity include:

  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush. This will result in less toothbrush abrasion to the tooth surface and less irritation to your gums. Never use a hard bristled toothbrush and resist medium as well.
  • Brush gently with less toothpaste. Your teeth are not the barbeque grill so brush gently. Use only a pea size amount of toothpaste for less abrasion of your teeth.
  • Use desensitizing toothpaste. There are several brands of toothpaste available for sensitive teeth. With regular use you should notice a decrease in sensitivity. Another tip: try spreading a thin layer of the desensitizing toothpaste on the sensitive tooth roots with your finger or a Q-tip before you go to bed. This allows the desensitizer (potassium nitrate) to soak onto the roots longer. Do not use a tartar control or whitening toothpaste as these can increase sensitivity.
  • Watch what you eat. Avoid excessive consumption of highly acidic foods ( like soda, lemons, grapefruit, etc). If you’re eating acidic foods, have cheese or milk with them. Don’t swish acidic liquids like soda or orange juice in your mouth – try to minimize their acid contact to your teeth. And, avoid brushing your teeth immediately after eating acidic foods, when your enamel is weak and prone to being worn away.
  • Manage your teeth grinding. If you grind or clench your teeth, using a mouth guardat night will help reduce tooth sensitivity as well as help prevent teeth from cracking and breaking.

If desensitizing toothpaste does not ease your discomfort, your dentist may suggest in-office techniques. If receding gums cause the sensitivity, your dentist may use agents that bond to the tooth root or use a laser to "seal" the sensitive teeth.

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