What are sensitive teeth and how can I care for them?
Many people suffer from sensitive teeth. Sensitivity can start at any time but it is more common in adults.
Having sensitive teeth can range from a mild twinge to severe discomfort that can last for many hours. Sensitivity can be an early warning sign that you have more serious dental problems.
You are more likely to experience sensitivity when drinking or eating something cold, from cold air catching your teeth and sometimes with hot foods or drinks. Some people have sensitivity when they have sweet or acidic food and drinks.
What causes sensitive teeth?
The part of the tooth we can see has a layer of enamel that protects the softer dentine underneath. If the dentine is exposed a tooth can become sensitive. This usually happens where the tooth and the gum meet and the enamel layer is much thinner.
Some possible causes of sensitivity –
Toothbrush abrasion. Brushing too hard can cause enamel to be worn away – particularly where the teeth meet the gums. The freshly exposed dentine may then become sensitive.
Dental erosion. Tooth enamel can be worn away by attacks from acidic food and drinks. If enamel is worn away the dentine underneath is exposed and this can lead to sensitivity.
Gum recession. Gums may naturally shrink back and the roots of the teeth will become exposed and can be more sensitive. Root surfaces do not have an enamel layer to protect them.
Gum disease. A build-up of plaque or tartar can cause the gum to recede down the tooth and even destroy the bony support of the tooth. Pockets can form in the gums around the tooth making the area difficult to keep clean and the problem worse.
Tooth grinding. This is a habit which involves clenching and grinding the teeth together. This can cause the enamel of the teeth to be worn away, making the teeth sensitive.
A cracked tooth or filling. A crack can run from the biting surface of a tooth down towards the root. Extreme temperatures, especially cold, may cause discomfort.
Teeth whitening. Some patients may have sensitivity for a short time during or after whitening. This is something you can discuss with your dentist before treatment. The newer procedures/products for whitening have a de-sensitising agent included to help prevent this.
What I can do to treat sensitive teeth at home?
There are many brands of toothpaste on the market made to help ease the pain of sensitive teeth. You should use the toothpaste twice a day to brush your teeth. Some toothpastes can take anything from a few days to several weeks to take effect. Your dentist can advise you on which type of toothpaste would be best for you.
You may find that you need to avoid drinks that are very hot or cold or acidic or sweet. Very cold food such as ice cream may cause pain. If you are experiencing sensitivity when brushing your teeth try using water that is luke warm rather than cold.
If you have followed this advice and seen no improvement after a few weeks then make an appointment with your dentist.
How can your dentist help?
During an examination your dentist will talk to you about your symptoms and will look at your teeth to find out what is causing the sensitivity and to find the best way of treating it.
The affected teeth may be treated with special ‘de-sensitising’ products to help relieve the symptoms. Fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes can be applied to sensitive teeth; these can be painted onto the teeth at regular appointments one or two weeks apart to build up some protection.
Sensitivity can take some time to settle and you may require a few appointments. If this still does not help your dentist may seal or fill around the neck of the tooth, where the tooth and gum meet, to cover exposed dentine. In very serious cases it may be necessary to root-fill the tooth.
How can I prevent sensitive teeth?
Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day with a fluoride toothpaste. You may want to consider using toothpaste specifically for sensitive teeth. Use small, circular movements with a soft- to medium-bristled brush and try to avoid brushing your teeth too vigorously.
Change your toothbrush every two to three months or sooner if it becomes worn.
Keep sugary foods, fizzy and acidic drinks to a minimum, both for your dental health and your physical health.
If you grind your teeth at night speak to your dentist about whether you need to wear a mouthguard.
If you are considering teeth whitening discuss this with your dentist before booking any treatment.
Make sure that you visit your dentist regularly. To book an appointment at Smile Concepts, call our reception desk on 0121 705 2705.