If you’ve ever had a sudden, sharp pain in your teeth when eating or drinking something cold, hot, or sweet, then you know just how frustrating tooth sensitivity can be. It’s hard to enjoy your favorite foods when every bite feels like torture! But don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many people experience tooth sensitivity at some point in their lives. In this blog post, we’ll explain what tooth sensitivity is and why it happens. We’ll also discuss the various factors that can contribute to sensitive teeth, and offer some tips for how to manage the pain.
What is tooth sensitivity?
It occurs when the dentin – the inner layer of your teeth – becomes exposed. Dentin is a porous material that contains tiny nerves. When these nerves are exposed to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli, they send pain signals to your brain.
You see, your teeth are composed of three main layers: enamel, dentin, and pulp. Enamel is the hard outer layer that protects your teeth from everyday wear and tear. Dentin is the softer inner layer that contains tiny pores (or tubules). These tubules lead to the nerves in your pulp – the central core of your tooth. When your enamel wears down or erodes, the dentin becomes exposed and the tubules open up, allowing stimuli to reach the nerves in your pulp. This is what causes tooth sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity can also occur when the tooth roots are exposed. The roots of your teeth are normally covered by gum tissue. But if your gums recede (or pull away from the teeth), the roots become exposed. This is because the tooth roots are covered in cementum and are normally protected by the gums. Since the tooth roots are not covered in enamel, they are more susceptible to tooth sensitivity when not protected by the gums.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
There are many factors that can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common causes:
Brushing Too Hard:
Brushing your teeth too hard can damage or wear down your enamel, and lead to tooth sensitivity. Be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and gentle strokes when brushing. You can also utilize toothpastes formulated especially for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes contain desensitizing agents that help to block the tubules in your dentin and protect your teeth from sensitivity.
Bruxism is a condition characterized by clenching or grinding of the teeth. It can occur during the day or at night (while you sleep). Bruxism puts a lot of pressure on your teeth and can damage or wear down your enamel, leading to tooth sensitivity. If you think you may be grinding your teeth at night, talk to your dentist about getting a mouth guard.
Acidic Foods and Beverages:
Acidic foods and beverages can contribute to tooth sensitivity because they erode the enamel on your teeth. Enamel is the hard, protective outer layer of your teeth. Once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced. So be sure to limit your intake of acidic foods and beverages, and brush your teeth soon after consuming them.
As we mentioned before, gum recession can expose the roots of your teeth and lead to tooth sensitivity. Gum recession can be caused by a number of things, including genetics, poor oral hygiene, brushing too hard, or grinding your teeth. If you have gum recession, be sure to see your dentist regularly so they can monitor the condition and offer treatment options as needed.
Tooth decay can also lead to tooth sensitivity. When you have a cavity, the bacteria in your mouth gets into the inner layers of your teeth and starts to break down the dentin. This can cause pain when eating or drinking hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages. If you think you may have a cavity, be sure to see your dentist so they can treat it before it gets worse.
Damage to your teeth can also lead to tooth sensitivity. This can include things like chips, cracks, or wear and tear. If you have any damage to your teeth, be sure to see your dentist so they can assess the situation and recommend treatment options.
If you have old dental work, such as fillings, crowns, or bridges, it may be the cause of your tooth sensitivity. This is because over time these materials can break down and allow stimuli to reach the nerves in your teeth. If you think your old dental work may be causing your tooth sensitivity, be sure to see your dentist so they can assess the situation and recommend treatment options.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. This can lead to damage of the teeth and gums and contribute to tooth sensitivity. If you think you may have GERD, be sure to see your doctor so they can diagnose and treat the condition.
In this blog post, we’ve discussed tooth sensitivity and some of the most common causes. While tooth sensitivity can be annoying, there are many things you can do to help alleviate the pain. If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, be sure to see your dentist so they can assess the situation and recommend treatment options. Thanks for reading!
Dr. Alina Huang has been practicing dentistry in Manhattan for the last eight years. She was born in New York City, and raised in California where she received her Bachelor’s degree at UCLA, and her D.D.S. at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco. She then made her return to NYC where she completed her General Practice Residency at Montefiore Medical Center and has been working in private practice ever since. She continues her learning by attending courses to stay current with the latest advancements in dentistry and refine her skills.