Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?
Tooth sensitivity is caused by the movement of fluid within tiny tubes located in the dentin (the layer of tissue found beneath the hard enamel that contains the inner pulp), which results in nerve irritation. When the hard enamel is worn down or gums have receded, causing the tiny tube surfaces to be exposed, pain can be caused by eating or drinking foods or hot or cold beverages, touching your teeth, or exposing them to cold air.
Exposed areas of the tooth can cause pain and even affect or change your eating, drinking, and breathing habits. Taking a spoonful of ice cream, for example, can be a painful experience for people with sensitive teeth. The excessive consumption of acid-containing foods and beverages, such as citrus juices and fruits and soft drinks, can also put you at risk for tooth sensitivity. Bulimia and acid reflux can also result in erosion of the hard enamel and sensitivity due to acid in the mouth.
Is tooth sensitivity a common condition?
Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common complaints among dental patients. At least 40 million adults in the United States suffer at some time from sensitive teeth.
How can I avoid sensitivity?
Some toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients that may be too harsh for people who have sensitive teeth. Ingredients found in some whitening toothpastes that lighten and/or remove certain stains from enamel and sodium pyrophosphate, the key ingredient in tartar-control toothpaste, may increase tooth sensitivity.
What can I do about sensitive teeth?
Tooth sensitivity can be reduced by using a desensitizing toothpaste; having your dentist apply sealants and other desensitizing and filling materials, including fluoride; and decreasing the intake of acid-containing foods. Using tartar-control toothpaste will sometimes cause teeth to be sensitive as well as drinking soft drinks throughout the day, so these habits should be avoided.
Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes and brushing your teeth too hard, which can wear down the tooth’s surface and expose sensitive spots. The way to find out if you’re brushing your teeth too hard is to take a good look at your toothbrush. If the bristles are pointing in multiple directions, you’re brushing too hard.
How do I know when it’s time to see a dentist?
If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days and reacts to hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to get a diagnostic evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. Before taking the situation into your own hands, an accurate diagnosis of tooth sensitivity is essential for effective treatment to eliminate pain. Because pain symptoms can be similar, some people might think that a tooth is sensitive, when instead, they actually have a cavity or abscess that’s not yet visible.
How do I describe my symptoms to my dentist?
Sensitivity may be defined as a short, sharp pain that is usually initiated by eating hot or cold foods or exposure to cold air. Aching often follows. Because sensitivity may mean different things to a patient and dental professional, be sure to clarify exactly what you feel when you discuss the condition with your dentist. Be sure to tell the dentist when the pain started and if there is anything, such as the application of a warm compress, that helps eliminate the pain.
Do some products help decrease sensitivity?
Toothpaste for sensitive teeth usually contains a desensitizing agent that protects the exposed dentin by blocking the tubes in the teeth that are connected to nerves. In most cases, these products must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before any therapeutic benefits may be noticed.
What can the dentist do for my sensitive teeth?
Dentists have a variety of regimens to manage tooth hypersensitivity, including both in-office treatments and patient-applied products for home use. If you are diagnosed with dentin hypersensitivity, your dentist may apply a desensitizing agent or a protective coating. You may be prescribed a stannous fluoride gel or an over-the-counter desensitizing toothpaste containing fluoride and either potassium nitrate or strontium chloride. These ingredients help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth to the nerve. It also might help to massage the special paste onto your gums with your finger after brushing.
What should I do after the dentist has applied a desensitizing agent?
Listen closely to your dentist’s instructions. He or she may advise you not to eat or drink for a short period of time to eliminate all sources of irritation, such as acidic foods, medication, or flavored toothpastes. You may also be instructed to change oral hygiene habits that are likely to cause abrasion or use a daily fluoride application (a rinse or brush-on gel).
How to Keep the Cost of Dental Care Down
1) Eat Right
Limit the number of snacks you eat daily. Each time you eat food that contains sugar or starch, your teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more. These acids, produced by bacteria that naturally exist in your mouth, weaken enamel and eventually cause a cavity. If you can’t brush immediately after eating a snack, at least rinse your mouth with water … not soda.
2) Drink Water
Avoid sugary drinks that tend to adhere to teeth and give bacteria “food” to work with. Water flushes the mouth of decay-causing bacteria and food debris. Los Angeles’s water recently became fluoridated which means that a controlled amount of fluoride is added to the city’s water supply. This is good news because it means that every time you drink from the tap, you are coating your teeth with fluoride. Fluoride is an integral part of preventing tooth decay because it becomes incorporated into your tooth structure, making your teeth stronger and less susceptible to penetration by bacterial acids.
3) Replace Your Toothbrush Every 3 Months
Studies show that a new toothbrush can remove 30% more plaque than a toothbrush that is three months old. Why? As you use your toothbrush the bristles become stiff. The harder the bristles, the less they conform to the shape of the tooth and the less effective your plaque removal. Also, stiff bristles can irritate your gums and cause them to be inflamed. I recommend getting a new soft toothbrush every three months for optimum results.
4) Floss, Please
Most adult tooth decay occurs in between teeth due to lack of flossing. Most people claim they “don’t have time” to floss after brushing so they don’t. One of my patients suggests keeping floss next to your television set so when you sit down to watch t.v., you are reminded to floss. Ideally, you should floss after brushing. But flossing any time is better than not flossing.
5) Use Mouthwash
Bacteria in our mouths produce toxins that can damage teeth and gums and cause periodontal disease. This is a chronic gum disease that usually starts as gingivitis. This disease can be costly to treat and maintain. Mouthwash has been shown to fight periodontal disease. Anti-microbial mouthwashes help because they bind to oral bacteria, rupturing the bacteria’s cell wall and killing it. Prescription mouthwashes are most effective. However, non-prescription mouthwashes, like Listerine, do kill surface bacteria and although results are not as long lasting or as effective as prescription mouthwashes, they do help the general population maintain their gingival health.
As with any product, be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle for best results. Do not dilute your mouthwash and do not rinse more than recommended by the manufacturer. Most mouthwashes are to be used twice daily. Using it more often can cause gum irritation and actually make things worse. So be sure to follow the directions for your particular product of choice.
6) Invest in an Electric Toothbrush
Studies show that electric toothbrushes remove plaque more effectively than conventional toothbrushes. People tend to brush more regularly if they have a “gadget” to use. One positive aspect of an electric toothbrush is that the brush is designed to move at a certain speed. Therefore, people aren’t using their toothbrushes like a scrub brush and brushing too fast. Plaque is very sticky, therefore, it is more effective to take more time brushing and apply less pressure to your teeth. Most patients, when properly instructed by their dentist, will get good results with their conventional toothbrush. But the truth is that most people don’t pay attention to their technique while brushing and therefore don’t have effective plaque removal.
7) Visit Your Dentist Regularly
Your dentist can help prevent problems from occurring and catch those that do occur while they are small and less costly to treat. Most people don’t realize that a cavity that is ignored when it’s small, can “grow up” to be a root canal. When it comes to your teeth, silence is not golden! Decay can silently wreak havoc in your mouth. In fact, by the time it becomes noticeable, either through a tooth ache or sensitivity, that usually means it’s pretty big…and more expensive to treat. The key to saving money in dentistry is PREVENTION!
8) Unclench Those Jaws!
One of the most damaging oral habits is bruxism (habitually clenching or grinding your upper and lower teeth). Bruxism can cause teeth to crack or break. It can tire jaw muscles and cause muscle spasms. If you are experiencing stress and find yourself waking up with headaches, a sore jaw or sore teeth, you’re probably bruxing in your sleep. A Night guard is a custom made mouth piece designed to keep you from grinding your teeth at night and help relax your jaw muscles.
Mouth guards are custom made mouth pieces worn during athletic activities such as boxing, martial arts, football, hockey and basketball. They are different than night guards in that they’re designed to protect your upper jaw bone as well.
Night guards should never be used in place of a mouth guard because they do not offer the same protection. After all, a night guard is meant to be worn while sleeping to protect teeth and train jaw muscles. A mouth guard protects teeth and jaw bones and is designed for rigorous activity. Although they serve different purposes, both can prevent costly injuries.
9) Avoid bad habits
Chewing ice or popcorn kernels tend to crack or break teeth, fillings or crowns. Nail biting irritates gums. Wedging toothpicks in between teeth tends to wear away the tooth’s root structure thereby undermining the tooth and making it more likely to break off at the gum line.
10) Chew Gum !?
Chewing gum stimulates more than three times the normal flow of saliva, which is the mouth’s natural cavity fighter. Saliva helps flush out food particles from between teeth. It helps remineralize and strengthen teeth because of its naturally rich store of calcium, phosphate and fluoride. Sugarless gum helps neutralize harmful plaque acids because it is high in pH, therefore, it creates a healthy environment for teeth. I recommend chewing sugarless gum for at least 20 minutes after meals, if you are unable to brush.
If you are motivated to keep the cost of dental care at a minimum, call the office today to begin your preventive oral health program.
Our goal is to help you have the best possible oral health for a lifetime. But for some of our patients, only the high cost of repair is a motivator to adopt preventative habits. They know that the longer they wait, the more dental repairs will cost.
Decay in one tooth, if left untreated, will spread. Instead of one filling, you’ll likely need a full crown, increasing the cost by more than six times. Further delays could result in root canal treatment- an even more expensive procedure. The early stages of gum disease are easy to treat with dental intervention and home care. Without these simple therapies, it can result in tooth loss and prosthetic options requiring a considerable investment of time and money.
It is never too late to start a preventative oral health program. We can develop a treatment plan with you because prevention is the best investment!