Got Sensitive Teeth? Learn the Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Got Sensitive Teeth? Learn the Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Does the mere thought of biting into ice cream or a cold, crisp apple make you wince? Do you cringe at the idea of sinking your teeth into a piping hot piece of pizza or a steaming mouthful of stew? Does the simple act of brushing your teeth leave them feeling tender or raw?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing a widespread dental condition called dentin hypersensitivity — commonly known as sensitive teeth. 

Fortunately, this uncomfortable problem is also highly treatable. With a comprehensive dental exam, our team at Smiles in Springfield can help you uncover the underlying cause of your sensitivity issue and give you the specific advice or professional care you need to restore it. 

Let’s explore the causes, treatments, and prevention strategies for sensitive teeth:

Zooming in on sensitive teeth

For people with tooth sensitivity, all it takes is a momentary brush with hot, cold, sweet, sour, or acidic foods and beverages — or even a deep breath of winter air — to trigger sharp, shooting pain that goes straight to the nerve endings of the affected teeth. 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, 1 in 8 dental patients reports having sensitive teeth. But what, exactly, is the basic mechanism behind this common condition?  

The answer, in a couple of words, is dentin exposure. 

A tooth consists of four dental tissues

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the dentin layer becomes exposed, either because of worn enamel or receding gum tissue. Although dentin tissue is hard, it contains microscopic hollow canals called tubules that lead to the tooth’s pulpy interior. 

When a dentin-exposed tooth comes in contact with something hot, cold, sweet, sour, or acidic, that food or beverage has a straight and fast path to its pain-triggering nerve center.   

What causes tooth sensitivity? 

Dentin exposure may be the direct cause of tooth sensitivity, but what causes dentin to become exposed in the first place? There are many possible culprits, including:

Overzealous brushing

Brushing your teeth with an overly firm hand — or using a toothbrush with a hard bristle — can erode enamel and your gumline, two leading factors in chronic tooth sensitivity.  

Untreated gum disease

Plaque buildup along with inflamed, sore, or receding gum tissue can lead to tooth sensitivity when the loss of supporting ligaments exposes the root surface that leads directly to the pulpy nerve center. 

Frequent acidic contact

Frequent contact with acidic foods and beverages like tomatoes, citrus fruits, orange juice, and carbonated drinks can weaken tooth enamel over time; using a mouthwash that contains acidic ingredients can do the same, but at a more accelerated rate. 

Tooth decay or damage

Teeth that are chipped or cracked tend to be immediately sensitive as soon as their dentin layer is exposed; a tooth with a deep spot of decay may also be very sensitive.  

Grinding and clenching 

The repeated and involuntary grinding or clenching of teeth (bruxism) can wear away bite surface enamel and make your teeth more sensitive. 

Regular tooth whitening

Whether you use whitening toothpaste every day or over-the-counter whitening strips on a regular basis, whitening products — particularly ones that contain baking soda and peroxide — are a major cause of enamel erosion and persistent tooth sensitivity.  

Effective treatment options

Just as there are different reasons people develop sensitive teeth, you have various treatment options to address the diversity of underlying issues. After discussing the nature of your tooth sensitivity and performing an oral exam, our team may suggest one or more of the following: 

If a single tooth suffers from severe, persistent sensitivity, a root canal may be the best option — endodontic care is one of the most effective ways of stopping unrelenting tooth sensitivity.   

Can I prevent sensitive teeth?

Maintaining good oral hygiene is your best preventive defense against tooth sensitivity. This means brushing your teeth thoroughly and gently twice a day, flossing properly once a day, and seeing your dentist every six months for a professional cleaning and exam.

Limiting acidic foods and beverages can also help, as can using fluoridated dental products. 

If you’re ready to get to the bottom of your tooth sensitivity problem, our team at Smiles in Springfield can help. Call 703-634-4239 to schedule an appointment with one of the dentists in our Springfield, Virginia, office today. 

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