Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
by Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS on 4/2/2019
You can only avoid consuming hot or cold foods and beverages for so long. When hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages are causing pain or sensitivity in a tooth or teeth, it’s best not to ignore it. It’s a common condition that can be treated by a dental professional.
What is tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the dentin -- the tissue inside of your tooth -- is exposed. It is normally protected by a hard outer layer of enamel. But when that enamel breaks down or your gums recede, the microscopic dentinal tubules filled with tiny nerve endings are left vulnerable. These nerve endings can then be triggered by hot, cold, sweet, or acidic stimuli.
The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that approximately 40 million adults in the United States experience tooth sensitivity at some point in their life.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
There are a variety of factors that can lead to tooth sensitivity. Brushing your teeth aggressively can damage your enamel or cause your gums to recede. Conversely, a lack of routine oral care can also be a contributing factor, as fluoride helps protect and strengthen enamel.
Your diet can affect the health of your teeth and gums. Eating and drinking acidic foods and beverages such as carbonated sodas, coffee, orange juice, lemons, grapefruit, and pickles can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth sensitivity. Consuming too many sugary foods like cookies, candy, and ice cream can also produce bacteria that break down your teeth.
Grinding your teeth is a habit that can also wear down the enamel. Tooth decay, deteriorating fillings, and broken teeth expose the dentin of your teeth, as well.
What treatments are available?
There are both in-office treatments and patient-applied products for home use that help manage your tooth sensitivity. Ultimately, your dentist will first identify the specific reason for your tooth sensitivity and then determine a treatment based on the underlying cause.
Your dentist may opt to apply a desensitizing agent or a protective coating to the exposed area of the tooth. It can be as simple as replacing a filling. They may also recommend a softer toothbrush or a toothpaste specifically tailored to support and protect sensitive teeth.