Have you ever felt a sudden, sharp pain in your teeth? Maybe it made you jerk away from whatever you were doing, or brought tears to your eyes? Did you instinctively cover the painful tooth with your tongue? Does your child complain that their teeth hurt when they eat cold food? The pain from sensitive teeth only lasts a short time, which may tempt you to ignore it, but you shouldn’t. It is often a warning sign that something is wrong. The earlier you discover the cause, the easier it will be to treat so your teeth can become healthy and stop causing pain.
Sensitive teeth are a common problem and there are many possible reasons that your teeth feel sensitive. Some are temporary, but others need to be addressed before the problem becomes worse. If you just had dental work completed, such as root planing or getting a cavity filled, it is normal for your teeth to be more tender than usual. The sensitivity should go away after a few weeks but if it doesn’t, contact your dentist so they can help you find the cause.
Usually though, sensitive teeth are caused when the anatomy of your teeth is compromised. Normally, enamel forms the outer layer of the crown, or visible portion, of your teeth. Under your gums lies the tooth root, where the surface of your teeth is formed by cementum, which is softer than enamel. Below the enamel and cementum lies dentin, which has thousands of tiny canals, called tubules. In the very center of your tooth lies the pulp which contains the blood vessels and nerves. When dentin is exposed, certain triggers cause the tubules to stimulate receptors on the nerves, causing shooting pain and sending a signal to your brain that something is wrong. Sensitive teeth caused by exposed dentin is called dentin hypersensitivity and can be triggered by hot, cold, sweet, sticky, or acidic foods and drinks. Cold air and pressure from brushing or flossing may also bother some people.
Dentin can become exposed in a variety of ways. Cavities, a cracked or chipped tooth, and worn or loose fillings are easily remedied causes. Worn down teeth and receding gums can also expose dentin and lead to sensitivity but are not as easily fixed. Grinding your teeth, eating a diet high in acidic foods, bulimia, GERD, and tooth whitening treatments all erode enamel. Poor dental hygiene leads to plaque buildup which causes gum disease. Gum disease usually results in receding gums, which is a problem because your softer cementum is exposed, and it wears down more rapidly than enamel. Brushing too hard and using a hard-bristled toothbrush can erode tooth enamel and, if your gums are receding, this also worsens gum recession and wears through cementum more quickly
It is important to see your dentist if your teeth are sensitive. A dentist will be able to diagnose the underlying cause. If you simply mask the pain or use the wrong treatment, the problem causing the discomfort can deteriorate further leading to more pain, worsening gum disease, and even loss of teeth.
If the problem arises from cracked or chipped teeth, cavities, or old fillings, a dentist can treat it. Ignoring any of these situations will only cause the problem to worsen and may eventually require a root canal. If your child gets a crack, chip or cavity in a baby tooth, it is important to have it repaired right away. Even if they are going to lose the tooth in a year or two, damage leads to pain and allows harmful bacteria to breed and cause decay in other teeth.
Receding gums may be caused by the normal wear and tear of aging, by gum disease, or by smoking. When your gums recede, they pull back from the root, exposing the more sensitive cementum. If you notice that the roots of your teeth are beginning to show, it is important to see your dentist to understand why it is happening and act to slow or reverse the process.
You can switch to an extra soft bristle toothbrush and brush gently. This will help slow the eroding of your enamel and using a fluoride toothpaste twice a day will help your teeth remineralize. If the discomfort of sensitive teeth tempts you to skip brushing or flossing, don’t give in! It is important to continue caring for your teeth to avoid tooth decay and gum disease.
A desensitizing toothpaste with fluoride may also help. It will probably take several uses before your sensitivity begins to fade, and if one brand does not work, there are many brands available for you to try. However, it is important to speak with a dentist before allowing your child to use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth.
In some situations, your dentist may recommend a fluoride gel treatment. This treatment is done in your dentist’s office and strengthens your tooth enamel, reducing sensations which cause the sensitivity. They may also recommend other fluoride or desensitizing treatments, and possibly even suggest dental sealants.
If tooth grinding (bruxism) is the cause of sensitivity, take steps to reduce the impact on your teeth. When the grinding happens primarily at night, a special mouthguard designed for sleeping will help protect teeth and minimize grinding which will reduce pain. Grinding happens for many reasons and treating the root cause will help curb it. Eliminating stress or finding techniques to handle it can reduce your grinding. A medical or emotional issue may also cause grinding, but many times it is the result of poor alignment. Children often grind their teeth while the baby or permanent teeth are growing in. Normally it is temporary, but if their alignment is off the grinding may continue. If your child has poor alignment, early treatment may prevent greater problems and help costs be far less than if you wait. At Jungle Roots, we offer free orthodontic consultations and can help you or your child correct alignment problems which cause the bruxism and pain or provide a custom-fitted mouthguard to help with night grinding.
The good news is that there are many steps you can take to prevent sensitive teeth from occurring or reoccurring. Make excellent oral hygiene a priority, brushing twice and flossing once every day and help your children learn how to take care of their teeth. Switch now to a soft bristle toothbrush and brush gently at a 45-degree angle to your gums. Your teeth will still be cleaned as effectively as with hard bristles and vigorous brushing!
Avoid excessive consumption of acidic foods and drinks. These include citrus fruits and juices, soda, alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tomato products. You may be tempted to brush your teeth right after consuming these items to brush away the acids, but it is better to wait at least an hour. The acids soften your enamel and brushing right away can actually wear down your enamel more quickly.
Sugar promotes growth of the natural bacteria that produce acids and attack your enamel. If you minimize sugars and starches and eat more foods that inhibit acids and bacteria, you will help your teeth stay healthy and pain-free. Some great food choices for healthy teeth include dairy products and non-acidic fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber.
Finally, be sure to visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. They will be able to discover any warning signs that your teeth are not in optimal health and begin treatment before problems cause pain. At every cleaning, plaque buildup is removed, reducing bacteria’s ability to stay on your teeth and wear them down with acid.
Help your children keep their teeth healthy by establishing a dental home where they feel safe and comfortable. When your child feels comfortable, it will be easier for them to visit their dentist when they have a problem like sensitive teeth. At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry and Orthodontics, we provide a fun-filled, jungle-themed dental home where we encourage trust and cooperation so your child can have a positive experience, whether visiting us for a checkup or to restore a tooth.
Although sensitive teeth are a common problem, you or your child don’t have to just grin and bear it. Working together, we can take steps to restore health to your teeth and keep them pain-free.
At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist.