What Causes Sensitive Teeth & Treatment

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Sensitive teeth are a common complaint that many people will suffer from at some time in their lives. You’ve probably experienced this yourself – you take a sip of a hot drink or a spoonful of ice cream and you’re rewarded with a sharp twinge in one of your teeth. Hot, cold, sweet or sour foods or breathing in cold air can trigger a sensitive tooth. But why does this happen and what can we do about it? Let’s take a closer look at what causes tooth sensitivity.

Worn Tooth Enamel

If you suffer from sensitive teeth, it’s possible that your tooth enamel has been worn away in some places. The sensitive dentin layer underneath the enamel contains microscopic tubules – and either heat, cold, sweet or sour foods can travel along these tiny tubes to the nerves at the tooth centre.

Are you brushing your teeth too hard? Incorrect or aggressive brushing, especially at the gum line, can wear away your tooth enamel. Do you consume a lot of sugary drinks or sweets? Sugar-rich foods create acid that attack tooth enamel. Snack on alkaline forming foods, like dairy or fresh fruit, or sip on a mug of green tea to strengthen your tooth enamel.

Receding Gums, Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease

Receding gums are a leading cause of sensitive teeth. Below the gum line, there is no protective covering of enamel. Instead, there is only a thin covering of a substance called cementum. Hard brushing and acid forming foods can easily wear away the cementum, exposing the sensitive dentin layer of the tooth. The gums may also recede as a result of wear and tear as we get older.

Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease resulting in inflammation of the gums. Symptoms include redness, swelling and bleeding while brushing.  Gingivitis is primarily caused by poor oral hygiene, but smoking, poor nutrition and decreased immunity are common contributing causes, and diabetics and pregnant women are at greater risk.

Periodontal disease is a more severe infection of the gums that begins as a result of plaque or tartar build-up, surpasses the severity of gingivitis, and can also cause the gums to recede. If left untreated, periodontal disease can destroy the bone that supports the teeth. Your dentist can advise if you need a deep clean to remove tartar build-up on your teeth.

Too Much Stress

A stressful lifestyle could be the cause of your sensitive teeth. Do you find yourself clenching your teeth or grinding them at night? Grinding your teeth can also wear away your tooth enamel. Schedule daily down time to indulge in a relaxing activity. If you’re still clenching your teeth, you may need a to be fitted for a mouth guard by your dentist

Cracked or Broken Teeth or Fillings

A cracked tooth or filling might be the cause of your tooth sensitivity. Depending on the severity of the crack, it can either be filled in by your dentist, or the tooth may need to be pulled.

Treatment for Sensitive Teeth

Desensitising toothpaste can help reduce sensation reaching the nerve of the tooth. Several applications are usually needed. If that doesn’t help, your dentist may recommend an in-office application of fluoride gel or a desensitising agent. Depending on the cause of your sensitive teeth, you may need further treatment to repair a cracked tooth or filling. In severe cases, a root canal treatment or a surgical gum graft may be needed.

If your teeth are giving you nasty twinges of pain, there’s no need to live with it. Visit your dentist for an examination and be sure to tell him or her about your discomfort. With a little help, it could be a thing of the past.

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