Painful tingling and sharp, stabbing sensations in your teeth when you want to enjoy ice creams, cold fruit, or hot beverages can take the enjoyment out of your favorite meals. This hypersensitivity to stimuli, known as tooth sensitivity, happens when the nerve endings in the dentin of your teeth become exposed. What is tooth sensitivity, exactly, and what can you do about it?
The zing behind tooth sensitivity
Dentin is a porous tissue protected by the gums and a hard layer of enamel. It houses tiny channels embedded with nerves, which stem from a mass of blood vessels and nerve endings in the center of the tooth, called the pulp. When enamel wears away or your gumline recedes, portions of dentin are uncovered, exposing the nerve endings inside your teeth. The discomfort you feel from sensitive teeth is a result of these nerve endings triggering pain when they are exposed to sudden changes in temperature.
Tooth sensitivity can also be caused by more serious dental concerns like a cracked or broken tooth, cavities, periodontitis, or gum disease. Gum disease can occur when a film of bacteria called plaque builds up on the teeth. Plaque erodes and destroys tooth enamel.
Tooth sensitivity can make day-to-day activities like brushing your teeth, eating, and even breathing through your mouth in cold weather uncomfortable. Read on to learn about the causes.
Causes of tooth sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity can arise from a number of common lifestyle habits that many people don’t give a second thought:
- Having acidic foods and drinks like carbonated beverages, citrus fruits, fruit juices, and sports drinks can soften and erode tooth enamel. Meanwhile, sugary and sticky foods encourage the build-up of excess plaque.
- Using a hard toothbrush or brushing too hard or incorrectly can speed up dental erosion and cause your gumline to recede, leading to dentin exposure.
- Grinding your teeth, or bruxism, can create small cracks in tooth enamel that increase sensitivity. Bruxism is a stress response in which you unconsciously clench and unclench your jaw or grind your teeth during the day or while you’re asleep. If you wake up with a sore jaw and headaches, you might be grinding your teeth in your sleep.
- Having pearly white teeth can come at a cost if they aren’t whitened correctly. Some home bleaching solutions can remove minerals from tooth enamel and make your teeth more permeable, increasing tooth sensitivity.
Improve tooth sensitivity
You can prolong the longevity and comfort of your teeth by making some changes and incorporating new practices into your lifestyle. Good habits that can reduce and prevent tooth sensitivity include:
- Limiting your consumption of carbonated beverages and sports drinks. When drinking these types of sugary or carbonated liquids, use a straw.
- Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after eating acidic foods. Instead, rinse your mouth with water or snack on dairy products such as cheese, milk, or plain yogurt. Dairy products help neutralize acidity in your mouth. You can also wait at least an hour, allowing your saliva to wash away acids and re-harden enamel naturally.
- Chewing sugar-free gum. Saliva has proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel and neutralize acids. When you are unable to brush your teeth, chew sugar-free gum with xylitol to keep saliva flowing and help protect your teeth. As a bonus, xylitol also helps neutralize the acid from food, preventing the decay of tooth enamel.
- Incorporating stress reduction practices into your lifestyle to help you relax if you grind your teeth. You can also speak with your dentist, who may suggest a nightguard – or bite plate – to protect your teeth as you sleep.
- Consult your dentist before using an over-the-counter whitening system. Your dentist can examine your teeth and advise you on how to achieve the results you want with the least damage to your teeth.
- Brushing your teeth twice daily with a soft toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. Ensure that you floss before brushing, at least once a day, to remove particles between the teeth that brushing may miss.
If you think your tooth sensitivity is a symptom of a more serious problem, consult your dentist. Having cavities filled or dental sealants applied can bring relief.
Your dentist in Slidell, Louisiana
Protecting and revitalizing your teeth improves your oral health and overall wellbeing. If you’re ready to enjoy your favorite foods again, call us at (985) 445-9656 or fill out our contact form.