A Guide to Tooth Sensitivity

From time to time, we all find that our teeth can feel a little bit sensitive. It could be a certain type of food that causes it. Alternatively, it could be something that requires more significant treatment, such as a cracked tooth. One of the issues for dentists is that sensitive teeth can have lots of different causes, so identifying and treating the problem is often a different process for each patient.

Because there are so many factors which can cause sensitive teeth, it is one of the most common reasons for visiting a dentist. When we talk about our teeth being ‘sensitive’, we are normally using it to describe a sharp, temporary pain that occurs when our teeth are exposed to a particular extreme. For some patients, it can be cold drinks or ice-cream that causes the pain. Even a cold day might make your teeth ache. For other patients, it can be the other extreme which causes the pain: so hot drinks and soups often need to be avoided.

Of course, avoiding the triggers for sensitive teeth is one way to manage the condition. But it can make life much easier if you can identify and treat the underlying cause of your sensitive teeth. A consultation with your dentist will help to begin this process. Your dentist will want to know which teeth are causing the pain and what sort of a pain it is. Is it a short, stabbing pain? Does it extend to your jaw, face or neck? Do you particularly notice pain in the morning or after you have eaten a certain type of food? It can be helpful if you can think about how you might answer these sorts of questions in advance of your consultation.

Your dentist will be able to look beyond the symptoms of your sensitive teeth and discover the underlying causes. Usually, sensitive teeth are a result of the enamel being worn away from the tooth so that the dentin is exposed. There can be a number of reasons why this might happen. If you have gum disease and your gums are receding, the roots of the tooth can become exposed. The roots do not have enamel to protect them, so this creates a sensitive area that responds with pain to heat or cold.

In some patients, tooth damage is caused and the enamel worn away because they grind their teeth in their sleep. This is a condition known as bruxism. If you do grind your teeth, you may notice that your jaw aches and your teeth are particularly sensitive when you wake up in the mornings.

Alternatively, a cracked tooth can also be sensitive, as the crack in the tooth exposes the dentin. Dentin can also be exposed simply by brushing your teeth too vigourously. Brushing your teeth too hard can damage the gums and cause their to recede, once again exposing the root of the tooth and causing sensitivity.

Many people with sensitive teeth will switch to a toothpaste which is specifically formulated to reduce sensitivity. This can help, if your sensitive teeth are merely a reaction to hot and cold food and drink. However, it will not necessarily make much difference if your tooth is sensitive because it is cracked, damaged or because the gums have receded. This is why it is so important to talk to your dentist.

For example, if the sensitivity in your teeth is caused by tooth grinding, your dentist may recommend that you wear a mouth guard while you sleep. Alternatively, if your tooth is cracked, it could be bonded. Or what if you are simply brushing your teeth too hard? Your dentist will be able to demonstrate how to brush them properly and may also recommend a different type of toothbrush. Perhaps an electric toothbrush would be more suitable for you.

Finally, it is also important that you discuss in detail any further tooth treatments you may be considering. Sometimes, tooth whitening treatments can cause your teeth to become more sensitive. If you have recently had your teeth whitened, your dentist should recommend a desensitizing or remineralising gel which will help your teeth to recover after the treatment.