Do hot beverages make your teeth twinge? Does the thought of eating ice cream make you wince? If you find yourself avoiding hot, cold, or even acidic foods because they hurt, you likely have sensitive teeth. And you’re not alone. Over 40 million Americans experience tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity.
All teeth have layers. In healthy teeth, a layer of enamel protects the crowns of your teeth. That’s the part right above the gum line. The layer under the gum line is called cementum. It protects the tooth root. Underneath the enamel and the cementum is dentin.
Dentin isn’t as dense as enamel or cementum and contains tiny hallow tubes and canals. When the enamel and cementum get worn down, the dentin becomes exposed. This allows hot, cold, or acidic foods to get into those tiny tubes and reach the nerves inside the tooth. This is when tooth sensitivity kicks in.
Here are some common causes of tooth sensitivity:
- Tooth decay, or cavities
- Fractured teeth
- Worn fillings
- Gum disease
- Worn tooth enamel
- Exposed tooth root
How to Treat Tooth Sensitivity
Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for tooth sensitivity. But, don’t worry. There are a few things you can do to treat sensitivity.Talk to you dentist. They’re experts at this stuff. They’ll help you find the solution below that’s best for you.
- Use desensitizing toothpaste. This kind of toothpaste is specifically designed to fill the exposed tubules in the dentin.
- Apply sodium fluoride gel. This helps strengthen teeth and increase their resistance to acidic foods and bacteria.
- Wear a nightguard. If your tooth sensitivity is caused by teeth grinding, your dentist will likely recommend a nightguard. It’s a small, soft, plastic appliance (kind of like a small mouthguard) you wear at night to protect your teeth while you sleep.
- Brush softer. Brushing too hard wears down tooth enamel. Practice brushing softer. If you’re not sure how much pressure to apply, ask your dental hygienist to show you.
- Consider quitting tobacco. Smoking and chewing tobacco increases your risk for gum recession and enamel erosion. Talk to your dentist about quitting strategies.
Always talk to your dentist before trying any over-the-counter solution for your tooth sensitivity.
How to Prevent Tooth Sensitivity
As with most things, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to tooth sensitivity. Here’s how you can prevent getting sensitive teeth or making your tooth sensitivity worse:
- Practice proper brushing techniques. Use a toothbrush with a small, soft-bristled head. Grip the toothbrush, hold it at an angle, and gently press it against your gum line. Rotate the toothbrush head in small circles to gently clean the surfaces of your teeth. Avoid excessive force to prevent tooth abrasion and gum recession.
- Mind what you eat. Go easy on highly acidic food and drinks like fruit juices, sports drinks, soft drinks, yogurt, and wine. If you do indulge in these treats, follow them with swigs of fluoridated water. This helps minimize the amount of time acid stays on your teeth which helps prevent enamel erosion.
- Take care of yourself. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep a night and exercise regularly. This helps reduce stress, a common cause of teeth grinding, which often leads to tooth sensitivity.
- Stay on top of your dental visits. That way, your dentist can diagnose and treat potential issues before they become huge problems.
Want to learn more?
Talk to your dentist about your tooth sensitivity. They’ll help treat it so you don’t have to give up your morning coffee or favorite frozen treats.
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