By: Maayan Sarah Heller for Dental1
Ever felt pain in your teeth after eating or drinking something hot, cold or super sweet? If so, you’ve suffered from tooth sensitivity, and you’re hardly alone.
Tooth sensitivity is a pain caused by the wearing away of the tooth’s surface (enamel) or of gum tissue protecting the tooth’s roots. It’s a condition that’s estimated to affect anywhere from one-in-four to one-in-five adults, often recurring over time.
|Avoid common causes of tooth sensitivity:|
1. Brushing too hard or aggressively
2. Not brushing long enough (should brush about 2 minutes, only brushing 1-2 teeth at a time)
3. Using a medium or hard bristled toothbrush (you should only use soft or extra soft brushes)
4. Clenching or grinding your teeth
5. Frequent vomiting
6. Cavities or gum disease
7. Repeated use of whitening toothpastes with baking soda can irritate the gums and cause sensitivity
It’s “a common problem that seems to occur more often as we age,” according to Dr. Jay Afrow, DMD, MHA, who teaches at Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
And most dentists agree there are many different causes for it.
“The majority of sensitive teeth are caused by toothbrush abrasion,” said Dr. Gina Terenzi, DMD, general practice residency director for Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “People who brush zealously often brush through the enamel of their teeth to the second layer – the dentin,” she said.
The most common symptom is a painful sensation after consuming hot, cold or sweet things. Terenzi said that cold is the most frequent trigger.
The “toothbrush abrasion,” Terenzi referred to is a widespread problem. Most people brush too hard and too briefly, damaging teeth and gums and causing problems beyond sensitivity.
Recession, or the wearing down of the gums, is another problem associated with tooth sensitivity. When the gums recede, the teeth and roots become exposed, causing further sensitivity.
Daniela Sever, DMD PC, a practicing dentist in Quincy, Mass., added that other health problems can lead to sensitivity as well.
“Acid abrasion, such as from acid reflux or repeated vomiting in bulimic patients,” as well as “congenitally thin and sensitive enamel” are additional sources of sensitivity, she said.
Prevention is always the best approach, said Sever. She suggests using a powered toothbrush to monitor the consistency of pressure, or to use a “gentle sweeping motion during brushing” with a traditional toothbrush.
Terenzi recommends a soft bristled toothbrush and a “rotating gentle massage technique at an angle,” for brushing.
Treating the pain
If you have sensitive teeth don’t worry, you are not alone and there are treatments. Approximately 50 percent of all people have or will experience tooth sensitivity during their lifetimes.
“Yes, it is fixable,” said Terenzi. “But it is important to know that once you wear away the enamel, it doesn’t grow back.”
Many dentists recommend a bonding procedure for advanced tooth sensitivity. This involves a bonded filling-like material applied to the sensitive area or exposed root surface.
In cases where recession has caused a gum problem, surgery may be required to replace the recessed gums. In this case, a piece of tissue can be transplanted from another part of your mouth to cover the affected area. This will help reduce sensitivity.
“If the cause of the sensitivity is due to grinding or clenching of the teeth, a guard fitted by a dentist can be helpful in preventing additional wear of the enamel,” added Dr. Afrow.
Toothpastes for sensitive teeth, including Sensodyne or Colgate Sensitive, among others, can help, and products like topical fluorides or gels can be applied by your dentist.
Many things can cause sensitive teeth, and since you never know how advanced or progressive yours may be, Terenzi’s emphatic advice: “Go to the dentist, that’s always number one.”