What are sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth are very common especially in people between 20-40 years of age. The sensitivity is usually felt when eating or drinking something cold, eating something sweet, or drinking something acidic. Sometimes, even catching cold air on the teeth triggers the sensitivity. In extreme circumstances simply sucking in air is enough to do it.

This discomfort may be as short as a few seconds or may last a lot longer. It can come and go and may only resurface when a stimulus (such as eating something chilled) is present. It is sometimes just a temporary problem, however, sensitive teeth can also be a symptom of something more going on so it is vital you get it checked out to rule this out.

Why do I have sensitive teeth?

We call general sensitivity “dentine hypersensitivity” and it comes from having some dentine exposed somewhere in your mouth. Our teeth get sensitive when the dentin (soft inner layer of the tooth) gets exposed or when the enamel (hard outer layer of the tooth) gets very thin or worn away.

Some reasons why the teeth get sensitive are:

  • Abrasion from tooth brushing
  • Worn enamel
  • Age
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth grinding or clenching
  • Gum disease
  • A broken tooth or fillings
  • Tooth whitening
  • Cavities (dental caries)
  • Acidic foods (erosion)
  • Root nerve damage
  • Exposed roots

What home treatments can I do to treat the sensitivity?

sensitive-teethAssuming there is nothing else causing the sensitivity that requires treatment [only a visit to the dentist can confirm this], then using a sensitive toothpaste like the Pro Relief from Colgate is a great way to help this try and settle.

Fluoride is also very good for this, so spitting after brushing instead of rinsing is good to do and a fluoride mouthwash can sometimes help,

What happens when I go to the dentist?

To assess the underlying condition, your dentist will have to ask you questions about your sensitive teeth and oral hygiene. You may also be asked about your diet, if you’re taking any medication, and your dental history. The dentist will want to know if one tooth is sensitive, a number of them, and what they are sensitive to.

Your dentist may need to take X-rays of your teeth and jawbone to aid the diagnosis- assess for gum disease and tooth decay. Often they will spray a little bit of air to try and elicit a response and identify the sensitive tooth or area. If your dentist determines that the condition is minor and doesn’t need any restorative treatments,  a de-sensitising agent that will ease the discomfort caused by sensitive teeth will be applied. This may be Duraphat or a ‘prime and bond’ type material to attempt to seal the dentine. Sensitivity is fairly common during a scaling, particularly the front lower teeth. If your teeth are too sensitive for the cleaning, they might use a local anaesthetic or nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to ease the discomfort sometimes reverting back to using hand scalers if it is the water or vibration that are setting the teeth off. A fluoride varnish or gel will then be applied after cleaning.

If the sensitivity is caused by a cracked tooth then a filling, or depending on the extent and position of the crack, a crown may be needed. A gum graft can occasionally be utilised for a very sensitive isolated area that is likely to worsen. Toothbrush abrasion can sometimes be aided by placing a protective filling (bonding) on the outside – particularly if the root surface is being worn away. If a tooth will not settle and is becoming more and more painful, a last resort is either a root canal to save the tooth, or an extraction.

Your dentist may also give you a high-grade fluoride gel that can strengthen your teeth’s enamel and help with the sensitivity or a ‘dentist only’ product like ‘tooth mousse’ which is very effective.

How can I prevent getting a sensitive tooth?

Here are a few steps to prevent getting a sensitive tooth, and to avoid getting another one:

  • Maintain good dental hygiene and have a professional and thorough cleaning by your Maroubra dentist twice a year. This will help prevent sensitive teeth from occurring as a result of dental problems; your dentist can regularly check up on your oral health and clean the plaque build-up in your teeth and gums.
  • Using fluoride toothpaste and a soft toothbrush, making sure to use gentle, circular motions when brushing.
  • Floss daily (before brushing your teeth) be careful, gently slide the floss up and down between your teeth to remove hard-to-reach plaque.
  • If you’re a tooth grinder, ask your dentist about getting a mouth guard that can protect your teeth from grinding, especially while sleeping. Grinding is a major cause of cracking teeth and cracked teeth are often responsible for sensitivity.
  • If you are considering to have your teeth whitened, make sure to tell your dentist about your sensitive teeth first as it may not be appropriate, or additional measures may be needed to make sure you are not too uncomfortable.
  • Drink water after every meal to neutralise the acidity in your mouth and wash down excess food debris.

What to avoid:

  • Cutting back on brushing and flossing- especially when you have bleeding or irritated gums.
  • Cold, hot, sweet or acidic foods and beverages. Basically you are trying to get the nerve to calm down in the tooth or teeth, so you need to try and avoid anything that sets it off.
  • Excessive brushing and flossing.
  • Brushing using a long back-and-forth motion (horizontal scrub). This can lead to further gum recession and sensitivity.
  • Brushing your teeth too hard, or for longer than is necessary.
  • Forcing the floss down the gum-line.