Person experiencing tooth sensitivity while eating ice cream.

What is Tooth Sensitivity and What Causes it?

Have you ever felt a sharp tooth pain due to cold beverages, or eating something sweet or sour, or does your teeth hurt while eating sweets? If yes, then you may be suffering from tooth sensitivity, a common dental problem that affects millions of people worldwide. Tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, is the feeling of pain or discomfort in one or more teeth when they are exposed to certain stimuli, such as temperature, pressure, or acidity. Tooth sensitivity can range from mild to severe, and can affect your quality of life and oral health.

Key Takeaways

  • Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem that affects millions of people worldwide, causing pain or discomfort when teeth are exposed to certain stimuli.
  • Common causes of tooth sensitivity include tooth decay, gum recession, tooth erosion, tooth abrasion, and tooth fracture.
  • Lifestyle factors such as diet, oral hygiene, and dental treatments can also contribute to tooth sensitivity.
  • Home care strategies for managing sensitivity include using a soft-bristled toothbrush, using a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, avoiding acidic foods and drinks, and using desensitizing agents or sealants. Preventing tooth sensitivity involves maintaining good oral hygiene, visiting the dentist regularly, and avoiding habits that can damage teeth

Understanding the Anatomy of a Tooth

image explaining how tooth sensitivity works with anatomy of the tooth

To understand what causes tooth sensitivity, we need to first understand the anatomy of a tooth. A tooth consists of three layers: the enamel, the dentin, and the pulp. The enamel is the hard, outer layer that protects the tooth from decay and damage. The dentin is the softer, inner layer that contains tiny tubules filled with fluid and nerve endings. The pulp is the core of the tooth that contains blood vessels and nerves that supply the tooth with nutrients and sensations.

The enamel and the dentin act as insulators that protect the pulp from external stimuli. However, when the enamel or the dentin is worn away or damaged, the pulp becomes exposed and vulnerable to stimuli, resulting in tooth sensitivity.

What are the Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity?

There are many factors that can cause tooth sensitivity, but the most common ones are:

  • Tooth decay: Tooth decay is the breakdown of the enamel due to bacteria and acids in the mouth. Tooth decay can create cavities or holes in the enamel, exposing the dentin and the pulp to stimuli. Tooth decay can also lead to infections and abscesses that can cause severe pain and sensitivity.
  • Gum recession: Gum recession is the pulling back of the gums from the teeth, exposing the roots of the teeth. The roots of the teeth do not have enamel, but only a thin layer of cementum that covers the dentin. When the roots are exposed, the dentin and the pulp are more susceptible to stimuli. Gum recession can be caused by gum disease, brushing too hard, aging, or genetics.
  • Tooth erosion: Tooth erosion is the loss of enamel due to acidic foods and drinks, such as citrus fruits, soda, wine, or vinegar. Acidic foods and drinks can dissolve the enamel, making the teeth more sensitive. Tooth erosion can also be caused by medical conditions, such as acid reflux, bulimia, or dry mouth.
  • Tooth abrasion: Tooth abrasion is the wear and tear of the enamel due to mechanical forces, such as brushing too hard, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, or biting on hard objects, such as ice, pens, or nails. Tooth abrasion can create grooves or cracks in the enamel, exposing the dentin and the pulp to stimuli.
  • Tooth fracture: Tooth fracture is the cracking or breaking of the tooth due to trauma, such as a fall, a blow, or a bite. Tooth fracture can damage the enamel, the dentin, or the pulp, causing pain and sensitivity. Tooth fracture can also allow bacteria and food particles to enter the tooth, causing infections and inflammation.

 

Lifestyle Factors Contributing to Sensitivity

Apart from the dental conditions mentioned above, there are some lifestyle factors that can contribute to tooth sensitivity, such as:

  • Diet: Eating foods and drinks that are high in sugar, acid, or starch can increase the risk of tooth decay and erosion, leading to sensitivity. Examples of such foods and drinks are candies, chocolates, cakes, cookies, ice cream, soda, juice, coffee, tea, wine, and beer.
  • Oral hygiene: Poor oral hygiene can cause plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth and gums, which can harbor bacteria and acids that can cause tooth decay, gum disease, and sensitivity. Failing to brush and floss regularly, or using improper brushing and flossing techniques, can compromise your oral hygiene and increase your sensitivity.
  • Dental treatments: Some dental treatments, such as fillings, crowns, veneers, implants, braces, or whitening, can cause temporary or permanent sensitivity in some cases. This is because these treatments can alter the shape, size, or color of the teeth, or involve drilling, cutting, or bleaching of the teeth, which can irritate the nerves and cause sensitivity. Usually, the sensitivity subsides after a few days or weeks, but in some cases, it may persist or worsen.

Dental Conditions Associated with Sensitivity

Some dental conditions that can cause or worsen tooth sensitivity are:

  • Gingivitis: Gingivitis is the inflammation of the gums due to plaque and tartar buildup. Gingivitis can cause the gums to swell, bleed, and recede, exposing the roots of the teeth and causing sensitivity.
  • Periodontitis: Periodontitis is the advanced stage of gum disease, where the infection spreads to the tissues and bones that support the teeth. Periodontitis can cause the teeth to loosen, shift, or fall out, and also damage the nerves and blood vessels in the pulp, causing severe pain and sensitivity.
  • Dentin dysplasia: Dentin dysplasia is another developmental defect that affects the formation of the dentin. Dentin dysplasia can cause the dentin to be abnormal in shape, size, or structure, resulting in weak or brittle teeth that are more sensitive to stimuli.
  • Bruxism: Bruxism is the habit of grinding or clenching the teeth, usually during sleep or stress. Bruxism can cause the enamel to wear away, the dentin to fracture, or the pulp to become inflamed, leading to sensitivity. Bruxism can also cause headaches, jaw pain, or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders.

Home Care Strategies for Managing Sensitivity

If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, there are some home care strategies that can help you manage the discomfort and prevent further damage, such as:

  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and gentle strokes: A soft-bristled toothbrush can help you clean your teeth without damaging the enamel or the gums. Gentle strokes can also prevent you from brushing too hard or causing abrasion or recession.
  • Use a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth: There are many toothpastes available in the market that are specially formulated for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes contain ingredients, such as potassium nitrate, strontium chloride, that can help block the transmission of pain signals from the dentin to the pulp, or strengthen the enamel and the dentin. You can also apply a thin layer of the toothpaste to the affected teeth and leave it overnight for better results. Explore Perfora's range of toothpastes, designed to be the best toothpaste to offer relief and protection for sensitive teeth.
  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks: Acidic foods and drinks can erode the enamel and aggravate the sensitivity. You should limit or avoid consuming foods and drinks that are high in acid, such as citrus fruits, soda, wine, or vinegar. If you do consume them, you should rinse your mouth with water or milk afterwards, or use a straw to minimize the contact with your teeth.
  • Use a desensitizing agent or sealant: A desensitizing agent or sealant is a substance that can be applied to the exposed roots or the dentin to cover the tubules and block the stimuli from reaching the pulp. You can use a desensitizing agent or sealant at home, or get it done by your dentist, to reduce the sensitivity and discomfort.

Preventing Tooth Sensitivity

regular dentist visit to prevent tooth sensitivity

The best way to prevent tooth sensitivity is to maintain good oral hygiene and dental health. You should follow these tips to prevent tooth sensitivity:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day: Brushing and flossing can help you remove plaque and food particles from your teeth and gums, preventing tooth decay, gum disease, and sensitivity. You should brush your teeth for at least two minutes, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and an SLS free toothpaste, and floss gently between your teeth, using a clean section of the floss for each tooth.
  • Visit your dentist regularly: You should visit your dentist at least twice a year for a check-up and a professional cleaning. Your dentist can examine your teeth and gums for any signs of decay, erosion, abrasion, fracture, or infection, and treat them accordingly. Your dentist can also perform preventive procedures, such as applying fluoride varnish, sealants, or bonding, to protect your teeth from sensitivity.
  • Avoid habits that can damage your teeth: You should avoid habits that can damage your teeth, such as grinding or clenching your teeth, biting on hard objects, or using your teeth as tools. These habits can cause the enamel to wear away, the dentin to crack, or the pulp to become inflamed, leading to sensitivity. You should also avoid smoking, as it can stain your teeth, damage your gums, and increase your risk of oral cancer.
  • Eat a balanced diet: You should eat a balanced diet that provides you with the essential nutrients for your overall health and your oral health. You should eat foods that are rich in Calcium, Phosphorus, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and antioxidants, as they can help strengthen your teeth and gums, prevent decay and infection, and reduce inflammation and sensitivity. Some examples of such foods are dairy products, eggs, fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and green tea.

Conclusion

Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem that can affect your quality of life and oral health. Tooth sensitivity is caused by the exposure of the dentin and the pulp to external stimuli, such as temperature, pressure, or acidity. Tooth sensitivity can be caused by various factors, such as tooth decay, gum recession, tooth erosion, tooth abrasion, tooth fracture, or dental treatments. Tooth sensitivity can also be associated with some dental conditions, such as gingivitis, periodontitis, enamel hypoplasia, dentin dysplasia, or bruxism. Tooth sensitivity can be managed by using some home care strategies, such as using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, avoiding acidic foods and drinks, using a mouthwash or gel, or using a desensitizing agent or sealant. Tooth sensitivity can be prevented by maintaining good oral hygiene and dental health, visiting your dentist regularly, avoiding habits that can damage your teeth, and eating a balanced diet.

 

FAQs on Tooth Sensitivity Reasons

1. Why is one tooth suddenly sensitive?

  • A cavity or a crack in the tooth that exposes the dentin or the pulp to stimuli. For effective cavity tooth pain relief, addressing the underlying issue promptly is crucial.
  • A loose or a broken filling, crown, or veneer that allows bacteria or food particles to enter the tooth and cause infection or inflammation.
  • A gum infection or an abscess that affects the nerve and blood supply of the tooth and causes pain and sensitivity.
  • A sinus infection or a cold that creates pressure on the upper teeth and causes sensitivity.

2. Can tooth sensitivity go away?

Tooth sensitivity can go away if the cause is temporary or reversible, such as:

  • A dental treatment that irritates the nerves and causes temporary sensitivity that subsides after a few days or weeks.
  • A dietary or a lifestyle change that reduces the exposure of the teeth to acidic or sugary foods and drinks that cause erosion or decay.

However, tooth sensitivity can also persist or worsen if the cause is permanent or progressive, such as:

  • A tooth decay or a fracture that damages the enamel, the dentin, or the pulp, and requires a filling, a crown, a root canal, or an extraction.
  • A gum recession or a periodontitis that exposes the roots of the teeth and requires a gum graft, a scaling and root planing, or a surgery.
  • A bruxism or a TMJ disorder that wears away the enamel or the dentin and requires a night guard, a splint, or a medication.

Therefore, it is important to consult your dentist if you have persistent or severe tooth sensitivity, and get the proper diagnosis and treatment.

3. Can sensitive teeth be serious?

Sensitive teeth can be serious if they indicate an underlying dental problem that can affect your oral health and your overall health, such as:

  • A tooth decay or a fracture that can lead to infection, abscess, or tooth loss, and also increase the risk of systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
  • A gum recession or a periodontitis that can cause bone loss, tooth loss, or gum disease, and also increase the risk of systemic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, or stroke.
  • A bruxism or a TMJ disorder that can cause headaches, jaw pain, or ear problems, and also affect your sleep quality, your mood, or your mental health.
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