Overcoming Sensitive Teeth: Getting to the Root of the Matter

Hot coffee. Ice cream. A cold glass of tart lemonade… Does even the thought of these treats make your teeth hurt?

If your teeth are sensitive to hot or cold, to sour or sweet, you probably weren’t born that way. Tooth sensitivity is usually a sign of something wrong. But it’s often temporary. And it’s always treatable. So if you’ve been turning down your favorite beverages and foods, take heart. Our dentists at TrueCare Dentistry will help you address the underlying cause of your sensitivity so your food doesn’t hurt anymore!

Let’s discuss treatments for tooth sensitivity and how to prevent it. But first, let’s review some toothy facts.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

At any given time, 1 in 8 people is experiencing tooth sensitivity. This means getting a zing in your tooth, or in several teeth, when you consume hot or cold drinks or food. You can also get zinged by acidic or sweet things. Even pressure or cold air could cause you pain.

Some people naturally have more sensitive teeth. But tooth sensitivity is more often the result of an underlying condition such as:

  • cavities or tooth decay
  • broken, fractured or cracked teeth
  • worn enamel
  • older or worn fillings
  • gum disease
  • exposed roots

Any of these can subject the dentin of your tooth to substances and temperatures that cause pain. What’s dentin? Read on.

A Close-Up of Your Tooth 

A tooth has four main parts:

  • Enamel protects the upper part of your tooth above the gum line. Also called the crown, it is the hardest substance in your body.
  • Under the gum line, a thin layer of cementum protects the root of the tooth and helps anchor the tooth into the jaw. 
  • Enamel and cementum cover the dentin, the layer beneath. Dentin is a hard tissue with tiny hollow tubes in it. 
  • The pulp is the soft tissue at the center of your tooth. Since it houses the tooth’s nerves and blood supply, it is the most “alive” part of your tooth. 

When you lose enamel or cementum, or experience gum loss around your teeth, the tubes of the dentin can be exposed. These tubes act like little conductors for heat, cold, acid or sugar straight toward the—you guessed it—nerves of your tooth. And then you have pain.

Treatment Options 

You don’t have to live with the pain of sensitive teeth. Depending on the cause of your sensitivity, your dentist can suggest a number of possible solutions. From less to more involved, these include: 

Desensitizing toothpaste. This type of toothpaste has compounds that block sensation from traveling to the nerves. You may have to use it several times before you feel a benefit. When buying a desensitizing toothpaste, look for the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal of Acceptance. Be sure to select a brand with fluoride (a remineralizing agent) and potassium nitrate (a desensitizing agent).

Mouthguard. If you grind or clench your teeth, you can damage the enamel. Your dentist can fit you with a mouthguard and give you instructions on proper use.

Fluoride gel. Because fluoride is a remineralizing agent, your dentist can apply fluoride gel to rebuild tooth enamel and dull sensation. 

Inlays or bonding. Inlays are fillings for cavities, or little holes, in your enamel, caused by tooth decay. Bonding involves adhering a strong coating to a chipped or broken tooth to shore up the enamel. 

Crown. A cracked or broken tooth invites bacteria that causes decay. It’s also sensitive to pressure. To fix the situation, your dentist can install a crown, or covering, over your enamel. 

Gum treatments. Shrinking gums can happen with age, gum disease or improper brushing, all of which can make gums pull away from teeth and expose the roots. Solutions include surgical gum grafts to replace gum tissue. Any periodontal disease—infection of the gums and bone—must be treated quickly. 

Root canal. This is usually a last resort for chronic, unbearable sensitivity. A root canal removes and replaces the pulp of the tooth, eliminating the nerves that feel pain. 

Preventing Sensitivity

Good oral hygiene prevents many dental problems, including tooth sensitivity. So it’s important to brush and floss and generally take care of your teeth. Simple, right? But let’s look at oral hygiene in terms of preventing tooth sensitivity. 

Brush Your Teeth

Brush twice a day just like the dentist says. But not too hard! Brushing vigorously side to side at the gum line can damage the gums and cause them to pull away from the root. Brush up and down, using a soft bristled brush that’s the right size for your mouth and teeth.

Protect Your Enamel

As much as you can, limit sweet or acidic food and drink. These can weaken your enamel and cause cavities. But let’s be realistic. We all consume these treats. So brush often. But NOT immediately after acidic food or drink—doing that can actually remove enamel. After your nice cold glass of lemonade, rinse with water and wait 30 minutes before you brush. 

To protect your enamel, use a toothpaste with fluoride. If you use mouthwash, make sure it has fluoride. Don’t chew ice! Snacking on ice can cause microfractures in your teeth. But you can chew sugarless gum to produce the saliva that washes your teeth and strengthens your enamel.

Protect Your Gums

When bacteria collects around your teeth, it can harden into tartar. This can build up and cause gums to recede, exposing the roots of your teeth. So in addition to brushing correctly, flossing between your teeth is a must. Be aware that smoking and oral piercings can increase your risk of gum recession. 

When in Pain, See Your Dentist!

Tooth sensitivity is a giant neon sign telling you that something is wrong. Read the sign and get the cause identified so it can be treated as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk losing a tooth—which is a lot more inconvenient than making an appointment! Speaking of which, regular cleanings and exams go a long way toward maintaining healthy, pain-free teeth.

If a hot cup of tea causes you more pain than pleasure, give TrueCare Dentistry a call and set up a consultation. We’ll identify the source of your sensitivity and provide treatment or refer you to a periodontist if necessary. 


Exceptional Is Not Uncommon

At TrueCare Dentistry, you will experience exceptional dental care that is focused on maximum patient comfort. We offer the best chair-side manner from check-in to check-out. Contact us for an appointment or to learn more: 919.859.1330