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Managing Sensitive Teeth

Not everybody passes on a bowl of ice cream because they’re watching their waistline. Some of us are more concerned about how our teeth respond to excessively cold or hot food or drinks. It’s estimated that one in eight of us experience discomfort from sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity can happen at any time, but experts note it’s more common if you’re between the ages of 20 and 40 – and if you’re female. Here’s what you should know about what may be the cause of sensitive teeth, and how to manage the discomfort.

What causes tooth sensitivity

The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that the most common causes of sensitive teeth include:

  • A cracked tooth
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Worn dental fillings
  • Aggressive tooth brushing
  • Periodontal (gum) disease

Teeth above the gum line are encased in a layer of enamel. Because your teeth are so important, this enamel is actually the strongest substance created by your body. This protection continues under the gum line where a layer of what’s known as cementum protects the tooth root.

Additionally, there’s a layer of protection under the enamel and cementum. It’s called dentin, and it has microscopic hollow tubes. When the dentin layer of your teeth loses the protective coating of either enamel or cementum, those hollow tubes allow heat or cold to stimulate internal nerves.

We’ve already learned that a wide variety of things can contribute to the loss of these protective coatings. That’s why it’s important to have a dental professional help you determine the cause. Proper oral hygiene and regular annual checkups are the best way to keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Beyond the obvious causes of tooth sensitivity

It’s extremely important to ask your dentist for help in determining what’s causing your sensitive teeth. While we’ve learned about the ADA’s top causes, there are many more – and some are things you might not think about.

We all want a nice smile, and sometimes that might mean we’re overdoing it when we brush our teeth. We also want that great, bright white smile – but it’s possible to weaken or damage enamel by using whitening products too often. And while you probably think your dentist would ever say such a thing, he or she might advise you that you’re overdoing it with flossing. 

Some of our habits can also contribute to sensitive teeth. Stress might cause you to grind your teeth and contribute to tooth sensitivity. You might not even be aware of it because you’re doing it in your sleep. Do you have a habit of chewing on ice? This seemingly harmless habit can damage tooth enamel or even grind it away over time.

Diet can also play a role in tooth sensitivity. Yes, fruit juice is healthy – but citrus is acidic and can be harmful to tooth enamel over time. Other foods, such as tomatoes, for example, are high in good nutrients but also in acid.

Treating sensitive teeth

It may be just occasional discomfort when you chew, or when you drink cold or hot liquids. For some, tooth sensitivity happens even when they breathe through their mouth. The good news is that modern dentistry has a treatment for any level of this kind of discomfort.

First step, make an appointment with your dentist and have a frank discussion about any type of discomfort you feel in your mouth. If it’s determined that you have no specific reason for tooth sensitivity – such as a cavity – your dentist may simply recommend a desensitizing toothpaste. It contains compounds that block sensation traveling from the tooth to its nerve.

You’re not going to get instant protection from a single application of this toothpaste. It’ll happen over a period of time, and your dentist can advise you about continued usage.

It might be necessary to return to your dentist to explore other options if the desensitizing toothpaste doesn’t offer relief. Treatments ranging from special sealants to treatments made with a laser often work when the just the toothpaste fails.

You don’t have to live with the constant concern that a sip of fresh coffee or a taste of your favorite ice cream flavor is going to give you a jolt of pain. Managing sensitive teeth is an easy task you can take on with the help of your dentist. Learn more about the advanced technology and calming culrture Dr. Randy Mitchmore offers at LifeSmiles to get a closer look at precisely what’s happening inside your mouth.


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