It is estimated that approximately half the population experiences tooth sensitivity.
The sensitivity you experience can come in many forms or situations. It may be mild and momentary, or extreme and last for hours. It can come and go over time. It can happen when you bite down on something, eat something sweet, drink something cold, or even when you drink something hot.
Why do your teeth react to hot, cold, sweet, or sour, and sometimes even to pressure? What’s actually going on?
If you are having issues with sensitive teeth, it’s typically an indication of a dental problem that needs treatment. The type of treatment can vary depending on the cause, however, as there are many things that can cause sensitive teeth.
Common causes of sensitive teeth
Five of the most common causes of sensitive teeth are:
- Dental Trauma – A tooth can be sensitive to even slight pressure if it has been traumatized in any way, “bruised” or even cracked (by biting down on something). Sometimes even having your teeth cleaned or a filling done can cause sensitivity. Sensitivity to trauma can take weeks or even months to go away.
- Uneven Bite – If a tooth or teeth are hitting too soon or too hard because the teeth have shifted, and your bite has changed, it can cause sensitivity. These shifts can be due to things such as thumb sucking, loss of bone structure, a tooth being extracted and the other teeth shifting into the empty space, etc. Again a bite adjustment usually corrects the problem.
- Tooth Decay – The tooth often becomes sensitive to hot or cold, sweets, or acidic food if a tooth is decayed because bacteria have access to the nerve of the tooth. Removal of the decay and a filling is required to resolve this issue.
- Dental Infection – The sensitivity can be extreme if there is infection in the tooth. Treatment is needed to clear up the infection or it can not only lead to extreme pain, but serious health issues.
- Dentinal Sensitivity – Exposed dentin is by far the most common cause of tooth sensitivity. This occurs when the dentin (the inner layer of a tooth) is exposed. People with a healthy, thick layer of enamel on their teeth don’t usually suffer from tooth sensitivity. The enamel can be eroded by various things, as the thickness of the enamel varies from person to person. Dentin is a sponge-like material containing small tubes that connect the root canal space pulp to the outside of the dentin. If the enamel on the tooth is compromised the dentin can be exposed, resulting in sensitivity.
Causes of dentinal sensitivity
As it’s the most common source of sensitive teeth, it may help to know some of the reasons why it may happen. These include, but are not limited to:
- Over-brushing or aggressive brushing – If you brush too forcefully, with a side-to-side technique, or with too hard of a brush, the enamel may be thinned and the area around the gum-line is most often affected.
- Gum recession/gum disease – This can occur naturally over time, whereby the gums shrink back, exposing root dentin which is not protected by enamel.
- Poor oral hygiene – This can lead to cavities, and/or plaque and tartar build-up, resulting in gum recession.
- Grinding – This may also cause “aching” teeth, due to constant pressure on them. Similar to erosion, regular teeth grinding (also called bruxism) can wear away the enamel by physically grinding it away.
- Medical conditions – Bulimia and acid reflux (GERD) can cause acid to collect in the mouth and erode enamel, resulting in sensitive teeth.
- Acidic food – Food with high acid content, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea, can cause enamel erosion with regular consumption.
- Bad habits – Using teeth as tools or chewing on objects (e.g., pens) can wear away tooth enamel as well.
Teeth can become sensitive for many different reasons ranging from trauma to dental disease. The first step in treating sensitive teeth is to determine the cause. If you suffer from sensitive teeth, getting in touch with our office to make an appointment is the first step in finding relief.