What to do about painful sensitive teeth

When you experience tooth sensitivity, even the most basic of activities can become intolerable. Things like eating, drinking, brushing, and flossing can all become increasingly difficult due to the sharp, yet temporary, pain associated with tooth sensitivity. Fortunately, tooth sensitivity is not something that one has to live with permanently.

Causes of and Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity

Excessive Oral Hygiene

Tooth sensitivity can be caused by an array of factors. A surprise to some, three causes of tooth sensitivity are related to engaging in a daily oral health routine. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush or by brushing your teeth too vigorously can result in tooth sensitivity as the protective layers of the teeth, over time, are worn down.

Vigorous use of mouthwash that contains alcohol or other chemicals can also wear down the enamel of the teeth over time. Finally, if you use a whitening toothpaste or whitening strips, you could experience tooth sensitivity. By switching to a softer brush, checking the ingredients in your mouthwash, and by using whitening products made for sensitive teeth, you can reduce your tooth sensitivity.

Teeth Grinding

Another common cause of tooth sensitivity is teeth grinding. Regular grinding of the teeth wears down the enamel and exposes the middle layer of the teeth, the dentin, resulting in sensitivity. Speaking with your dentist about being fitted for a mouth guard to wear at night will help stop you from grinding your teeth while you sleep.

Gum Disease

A common symptom of gum disease is tooth sensitivity. As gums recede, teeth become more sensitive. If gum disease is the cause of your tooth sensitivity, your dentist will come up with a treatment plan to reverse (if it is gingivitis) or halt (if it has progressed past gingivitis) your gum disease. Sometimes, treatment involves surgical gum grafting in order to replace the gum tissue that has been lost to gum disease.

Too Much Plaque

Plaque build-up wears the enamel of the teeth away exposing the inner layers of the teeth. Without the protection of the enamel, teeth are more sensitive. The best way to avoid tooth sensitivity due to plaque is by visiting you dentist every six months for a routine dental cleaning.

Tooth Decay

Over time, fillings can fracture, weaken, or leak; this can cause decay around the edge of the filling which then results in tooth sensitivity. It is important to visit your dentist regularly for check-ups so that fillings can be replaced if necessary.

Dental Procedures

Sometimes, tooth sensitivity is a side effect of a dental procedure like a root canal, extraction, or crown. While this is normal, if the sensitivity does not decrease after a few days, it is best to follow-up with your dentist as the sensitivity could point towards an infection.

A Cracked Tooth

Teeth that are cracked or chipped can become sensitive since part of the inner layer of the tooth is exposed. A dentist can apply a cap, veneer, or can perform an extraction (followed by an implant or bridge) to fix the issue.

Additional Treatments

While tooth sensitivity can usually be blamed on one of the issues mentioned above, treatment depends on numerous factors that only your dentist can determine. Sometimes, all that will be recommended is the use of a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. There are a variety of options available over-the-counter and your dentist can recommend a product that he or she thinks will work best for your condition. Further, fluoride may be applied to the teeth to strengthen the enamel and you may be prescribed fluoride to use at home.

Other treatment options include bonding or desensitizing (this is a treatment geared towards teeth that have exposed root surfaces) or a root canal (if the sensitivity is related to the soft core of the tooth called the pulp).

Once your tooth sensitivity has ceased, it is important to take note of the cause of your tooth sensitivity and to practice caution regarding your day-to-day choices. For example, if the sensitivity was caused by vigorous brushing, it is wise to invest in a soft-bristled toothbrush and to brush and floss twice a day with gentle, soft strokes. As always, speak with your dentist to come up with the perfect tooth-healthy routine.

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