Do you ever experience sharp pain, almost like a lightning bolt hit your tooth, when drinking a cold beverage, eating ice cream, or when breathing in cold air? Maybe sweet, sour, or hot food and beverages cause discomfort? Or even brushing and flossing gives you a zinger?
If any of these sound familiar to you, you aren’t alone. It is estimated that 57% of people experience tooth sensitivity. So what is the cause of tooth sensitivity?
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
To discuss causes, we first must understand the basics of tooth structure. The crown of a tooth, the part above the gum line, is covered with enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance in your body. The root of a tooth isn’t covered with enamel, but with cementum. Cementum is “softer,” or less calcified than enamel. Below the outside protective layers of the enamel of the tooth crown and cementum of the tooth root, is dentin. Dentin is filled with tiny tubules, like tunnels, with microscopic nerve endings that extend to the inner portion of the tooth, the pulp. The pulp chamber contains larger nerves and blood vessels.
Now that we have covered the basics of tooth structure, on to tooth sensitivity! While there isn’t a one size fits all answer to what may be causing your tooth sensitivity, here are five possible culprits.
#1. Gum Disease
Your mouth is filled with bacteria, some of which can cause infection and disease if not removed by brushing and cleaning in between your teeth regularly and properly. Gingivitis, which causes red, inflamed (puffy), and bleeding gums, can be reversed with proper oral care and treatment. However, if gingivitis is not treated, and disease-causing bacteria become stronger, it can lead to a more serious type of gum disease called periodontitis. Periodontitis is more serious because the tissues (bone, ligaments, and gum tissue) that hold your teeth in place are broken down and destroyed, and they don’t grow back.
When gum tissue is broken down and recedes, it exposes the roots of your teeth. Considering that roots are protected and covered by less-calcified cementum, as opposed to enamel, thermal (hot or cold), chemical (sweet or sour), or tactile (brushing and flossing) stimuli can aggravate nerves. This aggravation or stimulation of nerves can lead to sensitive teeth and give you a zinger of pain.
Besides the pain of sensitive teeth from gum recession due to infection, infection in your mouth can affect whole body health. Disease and inflammation-causing bacteria from the mouth have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and the list goes on. If your gums bleed when you brush or floss or you just haven’t kept regular dental appointments, it’s never too late to get your health back on track.
#2. Brushing Technique
On the other end of the spectrum of not brushing enough, leading to disease and gum recession, is brushing using an improper and damaging technique. This can include brushing aggressively with too much force, brushing side-to-side in a scrub-like motion with the brush horizontally toward the teeth, or using a medium or hard bristled toothbrush. Using abrasive toothpaste can cause issues as well.
When brushing, the goal should be to remove plaque and bacteria, not to wear away enamel or traumatize gum tissue. As enamel wears away or abrades, it exposes the underlying dentin, which can cause tooth sensitivity. Improper brushing technique can also traumatize and abrade gum tissue possibly leading to gum recession. As mentioned before, as gum tissue recedes, it exposes sensitive root surfaces which can lead to tooth sensitivity.
When brushing it’s important to use a soft-bristled toothbrush, brushing with short, light strokes, and holding the brush so the bristles are at a 45-degree angle to your gum line. Your dental hygienist is the go-to dental professional for educating on correct brushing technique.
#3. Dental Erosion From Acidic Food And Beverages
Calcium is a key ingredient in building strong teeth. Unfortunately, exposing your teeth to acid can leach calcium from your enamel, causing this protective surface to break down. Acid can come from many sources, including the following:
- Wine : Whether you choose red, white or rosé, drinking wine will soften your enamel.
- Fruit Juice : The most acidic options include lemon, cranberry, orange and apple.
- Citric Fruits : Snacking on oranges, lemons and limes can wear down your teeth.
- Candy : No sugary sweets are good for your teeth, but pay extra attention to avoid sour gummies and candies.
- Sugar : Even though sugar itself does not contain high levels of acidity, it promotes the growth of acid-creating bacteria in your mouth, creating an acidic environment.
- Stomach Acid : Vomiting and reflux also can cause serious tooth damage when stomach acid comes into contact with your teeth. If you suffer from an eating disorder, acid reflux or a related condition, seek professional help.
#4. Grinding And Clenching Your Teeth
No matter how good you are to your teeth all day, there’s a common condition that could be harming your teeth at night: teeth grinding. You may not have any idea that you’re doing it, but once you know the symptoms, you might be surprised.
Grinding your teeth at night can have pretty subtle symptoms. Most people simply notice that they’re waking up stressed with a sore, painful jaw. They also often report having a persistent headache throughout the day. And because these symptoms can often go overlooked, the nightly grinding continues and lots of unseen damage is done to your teeth.
Teeth grinding (also known as bruxism) is just another way our bodies react to stress, but if left unchecked, it can cause major tooth sensitivity, which is both painful and stressful. The damage happens slowly over time: grinding creates tiny cracks in the enamel of your teeth. Eventually dentin, the sensitive layer under your enamel, becomes exposed and makes your teeth vulnerable to hot and cold temperatures.
You may have sensitive teeth if you feel a pang of pain or a tingling sensation from eating, drinking, brushing your teeth, or cold air. This sensation can last just a moment, but may become a more recurrent problem over time. A whopping 40 million adults suffer from such sensitivity on a regular basis.
Aging is a part of life. As we age, skin loses elasticity and wrinkles form and hair may thin and turn gray. Just as a body endures wear and tear over the years, so do your teeth. Wear and tear over the years, whether you have good or bad habits, can lead to the thinning of enamel. When enamel thins, dentin can be exposed. As you’ve probably learned by now, exposed nerve-filled dentin can lead to sensitivity.
Precautions For Your Tooth Sensitivity
If you are experiencing any tooth sensitivity or pain, it is important to let your dental hygienist or dentist know what you are feeling. Tooth sensitivity can be mistaken for problems that need treatment sooner than later to avoid even bigger problems, such as:
- Severe decay (cavity) that has reached the pulp of your tooth, in which you may not even see if it’s in between your teeth
- Recurrent decay around a previously placed filling or crown
- A filling that may be breaking down and in need of replacement
- Fractured or cracked tooth or root
- Infected gums
- Abscessed tooth
It’s also important to let your dental hygienist or dentist know about your sensitivity because they can help alleviate the pain. Depending on the cause of your sensitivity, your dental professional can:
Counter Tooth Sensitivity With Fordham Dental Office, Bronx, NY
We value your trust in us as part of your family’s total healthcare team and look forward to getting to know each of you as the wonderfully unique individual that you are. Each one of us loves what we do and we believe at Fordham Dental Office that it shows in the quality of our work and our patient interactions an d it is one of the reasons why Fordham Dental Office is the clear choice for the dental patients in the surrounding neighbourhood.
We hope that each of our patient has a happy and healthy smile makeover and that means protecting your teeth and your oral health. We care for your smile and to have a detailed understanding regarding your oral care, you can always schedule a consultation with our dental hygienist at 586 Morris Avenue, Bronx, New York, NY 10451 or 573E Fordham Road, Bronx, NY 10458 by calling us at (917) 962-9990.