Tooth sensitivity is a common dental issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s characterized by a sharp, sudden pain in response to stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages. Do you have sensitive teeth? Here are a few common causes and treatments that could help.
Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the protective layers of the tooth (enamel and cementum) wear away, exposing the underlying dentin.
Dentin contains microscopic tubules filled with nerve endings, which become sensitive to external stimuli when exposed.
Common causes of tooth sensitivity include:
- Enamel erosion due to acidic foods and drinks, aggressive brushing, or teeth grinding
- Gum recession, which exposes the tooth roots
- Cracked or chipped teeth
- Dental procedures, such as tooth whitening or fillings
- Tooth decay or cavities
Prevention and Minimizing Discomfort
To prevent tooth sensitivity and reduce discomfort, consider the following tips:
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush gently to avoid enamel erosion and gum recession.
- Choose a toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth, which can help block the nerve endings in exposed dentin.
- Avoid consuming highly acidic foods and drinks, or use a straw to minimize contact with your teeth.
- Wear a mouthguard at night if you grind your teeth.
Maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily, and visiting your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings.
Treatment Options for Persistent Sensitivity
If tooth sensitivity persists despite your efforts to reduce discomfort, consult our team. We may suggest one of the following treatments:
- Fluoride gel or varnish application to strengthen enamel and reduce sensitivity
- Dental bonding to cover exposed dentin or tooth roots.
- Root canal therapy for severe cases caused by tooth decay or infection.
- Surgical gum graft to cover exposed tooth roots if gum recession is the cause
Are you experiencing sensitive teeth? Contact our team to learn about your options today. We look forward to helping you.
Tooth decay, also known as dental caries or cavities, is a disease that causes the breakdown of tooth enamel.
Once tooth decay has eroded the enamel, cavities can start to form.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), a tooth consists of three layers:
- Enamel: Enamel is the hard outer layer that protects the inner layers of a tooth. Tooth enamel contains no living cells and is the hardest structure in the human body.
- Dentin: Dentin is the second layer of a tooth. When the enamel is damaged, it may expose the dentin. Small tubes within the dentin allow hot and cold food to stimulate the nerves of the tooth. The stimulation of these nerves can cause pain and sensitivity in the tooth.
- Pulp: The pulp is the center of the tooth. The pulp contains blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue.
Tooth decay can occur in varying degrees of severity. Damage from tooth decay can range from causing wear to the enamel to painful abscesses within the pulp of the tooth.
Symptoms of tooth decay can vary depending on the severity of the damage caused.
Some people in the early stages of tooth decay may feel no symptoms. However, as tooth decay advances, a person may experience the following:
- tooth sensitivity to sugary, hot, or cold food
- constant tooth pain
- white or dark spots on the teeth
- bad breath
- loose fillings
- cavities in teeth
- food frequently trapped in teeth
- difficulty biting certain foods
- abscesses on teeth that cause pain, facial swelling, or fever
Tooth decay occurs due to a buildup of plaque on a tooth.
Plaque is a sticky layer of bacteria that forms on teeth. When a person eats sugary or starchy food, the bacteria in the plaque produce acids that attack tooth enamel.
Over time, these acids leach out minerals from teeth, erode the enamel, causing tooth decay, and eventually, cavities.
Tooth decay can affect people of any age. In children ages 5 – 11 years at least one untreated decayed tooth.
Older adults may experience gum recession, which is where the gums pull away from the tooth, exposing the root of the tooth.
Cementum, which is softer than enamel, covers the root of the tooth. This may make the tooth more susceptible to decay.
A person may have a higher chance of developing tooth decay if they:
- have a dry mouth
- have weak enamel due to genetics or illness
- do not brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia
- experience gastroesophageal reflux, also known as acid reflux, or GERD
A dentist will be able to recommend treatment for a person with tooth decay, depending on its severity.
Treatment for tooth decay can include:
Early-Stage Fluoride Treatments
Fluoride is a mineral that can help strengthen enamel. A dentist can use fluoride in various forms to help stop and even repair the damage that has occurred due to tooth decay.
A dentist can apply professional fluoride treatments directly to the teeth.
These fluoride treatments are generally quick, taking only a few minutes. The fluoride comes in the form of a gel, varnish, foam, or solution.
When cavities occur from tooth decay, a filling can be a treatment option.
After drilling the tooth to remove any decay, the dentist shapes the cavity to fit the filling.
The dentist then fills the cavity, using materials such as dental amalgam or composite.
Larger cavities that occur due to tooth decay may require a crown instead of a filling.
To place a crown, the dentist first removes the outer portion of the tooth, as well as any decay.
The dentist will take an impression of the tooth and fit a temporary crown until the permanent one is ready for fitting, usually 1–2 weeks later.
A dentist can perform a root canal to help prevent the need for extraction when the pulp of the tooth is damaged.
The dentist first numbs the tooth before removing the pulp. They will then clean and shape the root canal inside of the tooth.
The dentist may also apply medicine in the tooth to get rid of any bacteria.
The dentist will then fill the root canals with a rubber-like substance and place a crown or filling on the tooth to restore and strengthen it.
A dentist may recommend a person has a tooth extraction if the tooth decay has caused severe damage.
The dentist will first numb the damaged tooth. Once they have removed the tooth, the dentist will recommend a post-extraction regime.
A person may notice swelling or pain after a tooth extraction, which is normal. However, if a person notices any of the following symptoms, they should call a dentist or seek medical attention immediately:
- severe pain, swelling, or bleeding
- pain that increases over time
Tooth decay, if caught in the early stages, is reversible. However, once the enamel of the tooth has lost too many minerals and the tooth has a cavity, it is unable to repair itself.
A dentist can treat damage and prevent it from spreading further.
A person can reverse tooth decay by cutting down on sugary and starchy foods and practicing good oral hygiene.
A person who suspects they may have tooth decay should visit a dentist.
The dentist may ask the person questions regarding any pain or symptoms. The dentist may also take an X-ray of the mouth to spot any cavities.
Once the dentist has diagnosed tooth decay, they will discuss further treatment options.
Without treatment, tooth decay can lead to a variety of problems, such as:
- tooth pain
- loss of teeth
Abscesses can cause potentially life threatening infections, such as sepsis.
A person with the following symptoms should contact their dentist immediately:
- tooth pain
- tooth sensitivity to hot and cold
- swollen gums
- swollen lymph glands in the neck
- swollen jaw
Abscesses can also cause:
- bad breath
- an unpleasant taste in the mouth
- pain that spreads to the ear, jaw, and neck
Tooth pain may also be worse when lying down and may wake a person up at night.
People may prevent or stop tooth decay by:
- brushing teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste
- limiting snacking
- eating healthy, nutritious meals
- asking a dentist about fluoride supplements
- visiting a dentist regularly for checkups and professional cleaning
A person experiencing any pain or discomfort from their teeth should contact their dentist.
A person should also visit their dentist regularly for checkups to prevent decay.
Tooth decay is a widespread condition, with 9 out of 10 adults having some level of tooth decay.
Tooth decay can vary in severity, and a range of suitable treatments are available.
A person who has symptoms of tooth decay should contact their dentist.
If left untreated, tooth decay can lead to tooth loss and more serious conditions.