If you can’t stand the thought of eating ice cream or your morning cup of coffee makes you cringe until it’s lukewarm, you may have sensitive teeth. Acidic foods, like your favorite orange or spaghetti with tomato sauce, can also cause you pain at the mere thought of eating them, and you might be so sensitive that you wish you could skip brushing, flossing or rinsing with mouthwash altogether. Sensitive teeth are teeth that hurt — and while some people have naturally sensitive teeth, others may notice a sudden onset of sensitivity caused by other problems.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
If you hit the genetic lottery, you may just have naturally thinner enamel covering your teeth than other people. Enamel is the hard outer shell of your teeth that keeps the soft, sensitive dentin and pulp shielded from external stimuli.
Other times, you might experience sensitivity as a result of an underlying disease or condition. For example, GERD (gastro-esophagel reflux disease), gastroparesis or hyperemesis gravida can wear down enamel through excessive exposure to acid. Closer to the root of the pain, cavities, gingivitis or broken or lost fillings and crowns can also contribute to tooth sensitivity.
Habits like eating or drinking acidic foods too often, brushing your teeth overly enthusiastically or grinding your teeth at night can also add to pain throughout the day. If you’ve recently gotten dental work done — from intensive care like a filling to cosmetic procedures like teeth whitening — you may also experience a temporary increase in sensitivity to your teeth.
What Can I Do About Sensitive Teeth?
Caring for sensitive teeth starts with a good home care routine. Choose a soft toothbrush and ease up on your grip — you don’t need to scrub hard to ensure your teeth are clean and free from bacteria. Alcohol-free mouthwashes and rinses can help, as can those that provide extra fluoride.
Toothpastes made for sensitive teeth can provide some relief. These toothpastes are free from irritating ingredients and may have extra fluoride to help build up your enamel. Some sensitive toothpastes may also include ingredients that help numb the root of your teeth to provide relief from mild pain and irritation. Steer clear of whitening toothpastes, which can weaken enamel, as well as DIY or at-home whitening treatments. Skip gimmicky, charcoal-based toothpastes that can cause mechanical damage by abrading the surface of your teeth, which may be irreversible.
If you’re experiencing sensitivity that’s more than just an irritating sensation — pain or discomfort severe enough that it interferes with your life — it’s time to book an appointment with your dentist.
How Does My Dentist Treat Sensitive Teeth?
Your dentist will start by giving your teeth a cleaning and thorough exam to try to determine the underlying cause of your sensitive teeth. If your discomfort is due to thin enamel, you may be given a prescription for fluoride mouth rinse to help build up your teeth’s defenses. Your dentist may also apply fluoride via a custom-fit tray or directly to your teeth, and will likely advise you to skip whitening treatments or ingredients that promote tooth whitening.
For sensitivity caused by gum recession, cavities or other major issues, your dentist will form a treatment plan to help alleviate your discomfort. For example, gum recession due to periodontal disease may require a more advanced cleaning to restore gum health and allow your gums to grow back over the parts of your teeth that aren’t normally exposed and are therefore more sensitive. Sensitivity due to cavities can be remedied by a filling. For extreme pain or discomfort, you may need a root canal to remove the damaged nerve.
How We Can Help
The office of Drs. Krieger and Hur is currently closed to protect the health of our staff and patients and cannot take phone calls or requests for appointments at this time. We can, however, answer any questions or concerns sent via email, which you can do by clicking here. We hope to open again soon and can help address concerns about mild to moderate tooth sensitivity at that time.
It’s hard to imagine that human teeth have changed throughout history, but they have. Some of our earliest human ancestors — the people who were people before the Homo sapiens existed — dating back seven million years had remarkably different dentition than we do today. While some early hominids, such as Australopithecus afarensis, had the same number of teeth as we do, they were spaced differently due to differences in the size and shape of the jawbone.
Despite these differences in structure, it was thought that early humans didn’t consume nearly as much hard, woody plant matter (like seeds, nuts and shells) as they could have. But new research points to quite the opposite — that tougher plant matter made up a large portion of early human diets without causing painful or undue wear and tear on the earliest hominids’ teeth.
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