Causes and cures for sensitive teeth

March 23, 2011

Woman enjoying an apple without feeling any discomfort

Oh, that awful feeling.
Biting into a scoop of ice cream.
Sipping a cup of very hot coffee.
A spoon slips and slides across your teeth.
If you shiver at the thought of one of these things, you already know what it’s like to have sensitive teeth.
Sensitive teeth are caused when an inner layer of tooth material — dentin becomes exposed to the air.
Often this happens when gums shrink or pull away from the tooth’s roots. Roots are full of tiny channels that lead to the middle of the tooth, home to the dental pulp (nerves). Anything that touches the tooth — hot or cold liquids, cold air, or even something very sweet — can shoot pain straight to the heart of the tooth.

What are some of the causes of sensitive teeth?

The American Dental Association and WebMD, list some common causes:

  • Cracked, broken, or pitted teeth
  • Brushing too hard
  • Cavities or decay near the gum line
  • Gum disease
  • Using mouthwash too much
  • Toothpaste with baking soda or peroxide
  • Tooth whitening or bleaching
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth
  • Plaque build-up
  • Foods that are high in acid (like citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea)
  • Your age - teeth are most sensitive between the ages of 25 and 30
  • Dental procedures like cleaning, crowns or root planning

Prevention is the best medicine

The best way around sensitive teeth is to sidestep the things that cause them — particularly tooth whitening. It is a major cause of sensitive teeth because it eats away tooth enamel. Using mouthwash too often can also cause problems because it changes your mouth’s chemistry over time. But if you already have sensitive teeth, there’s help. A few things you can do:

  • Use a soft or extra-soft toothbrush
  • Use toothpaste or mouth rinses with fluoride (a chemical that can stop or even reverse tooth decay)
  • Don’t use tartar-control toothpaste
  • Use desensitizing toothpaste, and spread a thin coat of this toothpaste on any exposed tooth roots at bedtime
  • Use a mouth guard if you grind your teeth
  • See your dentist to make sure your teeth aren’t cracked or worn
  • Practice good oral hygiene and follow your dentist’s advice to brush and floss regularly
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