If you have feelings of sharp pain or achy discomfort when you try to do some of the simplest things, like sip on cold or hot drinks, floss, or even breathe in cold air you likely suffer from tooth sensitivity. The nagging symptoms of sensitive teeth can range from mildly unpleasant to straight-up debilitating, and since this dental issue is often caused or exacerbated by very common lifestyle choices, it’s a pretty common ailment. Most people, 87% are at risk from tooth sensitivity at some point in their life.
Why are your teeth so sensitive?
Sensitive teeth, or dentin hypersensitivity, can develop over time as a result of enamel wear and/or receding gums, and can occur when the softer, inner part of the tooth, called ‘dentin,’ becomes exposed. Once the dentin is exposed, certain triggers such as cold or hot temperatures, can stimulate the nerves, resulting in a short, sharp jolt of tooth sensitivity.
Simply, when the enamel wears down, the softer, more sensitive part of your teeth including super-sensitive nerves, loses its protective armour.
Not all tooth sensitivity is dentin hypersensitivity, though, and can be caused by other conditions, including a tooth decay, broken tooth, or gum disease. If you’re worried that tooth pain is something other than enamel breaking down, definitely head in to see your dentist.
What’s to blame?
If dentin hypersensitivity is the result of the dentin becoming exposed, what actually causes that exposure? External factors and habits could be the cause but keep in mind that genetics can play a role. Some people just naturally have thinner enamel, making them more susceptible to tooth sensitivity.
- Clenching or Grinding Your Teeth
Grinding or clenching of the teeth, biting your nails, and opening packaging with your teeth, cause tooth wear and gum recession.
- Acidic Foods and Drinks
What you eat and drink can play a major role in tooth sensitivity. The worst offenders are highly acidic food and drink, since acid naturally erodes the outer layer of our enamel. If you’re worried about or dealing with tooth sensitivity, avoid acid-rich citrus fruits and juices, wine, vinegars and salad dressing, sports drinks, pickles, and even carbonated drinks and tonic water.
When you’re constantly sipping on something like a fizzy drink, you’re bathing your teeth in that liquid, which is often acidic.
The same goes for eating snacks that are high in sugar like cookies, chips, and pastries. But even healthy foods like citric fruits can have damaging effects over time—but that’s not to say you can’t enjoy these. Protect your teeth by sipping water throughout the day, since plain water and saliva help balance any acids in your mouth.
- Certain Tooth Whitening Products
While professional tooth whitening systems are not permanently harmful to the enamel, tooth whitening can trigger temporary tooth sensitivity. Whitening or bleaching the tooth causes the pores in your enamel to open up and temporarily expose the dentin. When this happens, teeth can be very sensitive for a short time after the whitening process.
Be careful with whitening toothpastes, too, which can be very abrasive and cause wear on the enamel. .If you experience sensitivity with a product you’re using, stop and check in with your dentist for better whitening options.
- Brushing Too Hard or Too Often
Going overboard on brushing can also lead to gum recession and enamel wear, which, over time, can expose the dentin. In general, proper oral hygiene is a smart preventive measure against tooth sensitivity. Brush for two minutes, twice a day, be thorough, but gentle, careful not to aggravate the gums or teeth.
Ways to treat and prevent it at home
Bad news, you’re not really able to growth back the lost or worn-away tooth structure. But what you can do is protect what you have left by adopting great oral hygiene habits, going easy on sugar and acid, and picking up oral care products whose ingredients help reduce sensitivity and remineralize your teeth.
If you need more help going in the right direction, don’t hesitate to ask your dentist. In the meantime, it’s smart to start using a sensitivity toothpaste such as Sensodyne to brush twice a day, which can help mitigate all those painful symptoms.
Hopefully with these tips you’ll once again be able to bite into an ice cream, pain-free!