What Causes Tooth Sensitivity and How Can it be Repaired?

Dr. Salvatore Korecki

Tooth sensitivity is an extremely common problem. With over 40 million suffering some level of sensitivity in the USA it is no wonder why so many try to ignore the issue instead of addressing it head-on. Thankfully, tooth sensitivity doesn’t have to be a lifelong problem. With a little change in diet, oral care, or a boost of fluoride, sensitivity can be a thing of the past.

Tooth sensitivity, or a sharp, fleeting pain, can be triggered by temperature, acidic foods, or sweets. Most patients describe the sensation as a reaction worthy of a wince when they are trying to enjoy ice cream, coffee, when rinsing after brushing, or when tasting a sour sweet. Because of this pain, many patients try to avoid these items and experiences that would otherwise bring them pleasure, but there really is no need to.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Every tooth is built with a protective enamel, creating a hard layer over the softer nerve-dense dentin and pulp of the tooth. The enamel should protect the inner tooth, but with today’s diet, stresses, and hygiene practices, the enamel can wear away over time. Unlike skin or bones, which grow to repair themselves over time, the tooth’s enamel does not regenerate.

How does tooth enamel get damaged?

  • Diets of Acidic and Sugary Foods: Certain ingredients and chemicals in foods, such as sugars and acids have been known to interact and weaken tooth enamel. Much as you hear to stay away from foods that can cause cavities, these same foods can weaken the outer layer of the tooth and break down the enamel before the cavities begin. This is why it is always recommended to brush and rinse after meals, to remove any lingering acids and sugars from the teeth to minimize the potential damage.
  • Improper Brushing: As much as we want you to brush thoroughly, it is important that you do not brush your teeth too hard, as the pressure of the toothbrush over time can damage the enamel. Always choose toothbrushes with soft bristles and be cautious of bending bristles, as this indicates the pressure of the brushing is too great.
  • Nightly Teeth Grinding: Similar to the pressure of hard brushing, the pressure of teeth grinding or clenching in your sleep can bring the same effect. As you grind, you are compressing the enamel, which can lead to wear and cracks of damage. If you grind at night, a Sleep Guard is essential to prevent damage.
  • Alcohol in Mouthwash: Many mouthwashes rely on alcohol for germ-fighting against gingivitis and bad breath. Unfortunately, the alcohol can dry out dental tissue and weaken tooth enamel. So, when selecting a mouthwash, you should always look for an alcohol-free option, and if you use an alcohol-based mouthwash, do not do so daily, instead follow the recommended frequency in the instructions.
  • Stomach Acid (GERD): Some people suffer from Gastroeophagael reflux, which is a medical condition in which stomach acid rises from the stomach into the throat and back of the mouth. As this is a strong acid, it will interact with a tooth’s enamel, weakening it and can lead to pain. Thankfully this issue can be treated with a prescription or OTC medication, recommended or prescribed by a physician.
  • Teeth Whitening: There are many solutions to teeth whitening, some of which require stronger peroxide-bleaching treatment than others. Depending on the strength of your tooth enamel, you may want to avoid certain treatment options, such as the in-office Zoom process, and opt for a slower, but still effective at-home option that decreases the damage to the enamel. If you are interested in whitening, it is important to talk about his and any sensitivity issues to your dentist to prevent damage.

Treating Tooth Sensitivity

You may be ready to change your lifestyle to prevent future enamel damage, but what do you do if you already have enamel weakness and pain?

  • Use Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth: Some brands, like Sensodyne, specialize in toothpaste for sensitive teeth. They fight plaque with a milder formula to prevent future damage, while coating the teeth in a formula that reduces the tooth’s sensitivity. Patients can see results within a week of first using a sensitivity toothpaste.
  • Apply Fluoride Gel: Fluoride’s greatest benefit to teeth is to act as an additional layer of protection on top of the tooth’s natural enamel. Where a tooth’s enamel is weakened, the fluoride can help against the elements, protecting the dentin and tooth’s nerves. When applied in-office, this can provide patients immediate and lasting relief.
  • Dental Repair and Fillings: A simple example of weak enamel is a cavity forming. This can be filled and repaired to minimize future damage as well as eliminate any existing sensitivity or pain. Cracks, caused by weaken enamel or grinding, can also be repaired with a filling or crown, replacing the tooth’s weakness with a strong alternative substance.
  • Root Canal: If the tooth’s enamel is beyond repair but the tooth is still viable, a root canal can be performed in which the root and nerves that sense the pain are removed. This is, of course, a last step if there is no alternative option, but it is extremely effective and permanent in removing the pain and sensitivity.

If you are among the hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer from tooth sensitivity and are ready to solve the problem, call the Sensitive Care office today. We will review your symptoms to narrow a cause and create a solution that fits your personal dental needs.

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