Teeth might be tiny in the scheme of things, but man can they cause a lot of pain! Most of us have experienced the tingly, stinging discomfort of a sensitive tooth at one time or another.
You’d recognize the pain—it’s that sensation that kicks in right after you taste a spoonful of hot soup or a bite of an ice cream cone.
While anyone can experience occasional sensitivity to heat or cold, it’s a common sensation for those who have tooth sensitivity, which is also called “dentin hypersensitivity.”
Wondering what that is? We break it down below.
What Is Teeth Sensitivity?
It’s exactly what it sounds like—pain or discomfort experienced when the teeth are stimulated by certain things, such as hot or cold temperatures.
While it’s commonly associated with temperature extremes, it can also occur due to sweet or acidic foods or beverages, tooth brushing or flossing, and alcohol-based mouth rinses. Hot and cold foods are the most frequent trigger, but other temperature extremes, such as cold air or the bursts of cold water common during dental cleanings, can also trigger sensitivity.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Ultimately, tooth sensitivity occurs due to a number of factors, including:
- Damaged tooth enamel
- Exposed tooth root
- Gum disease
- Injured or fractured teeth
- Worn-out fillings
It commonly occurs when the protective tooth layer known as enamel wears down. That typically happens in conjunction with another tooth layer—the cementum—wearing down, too. That layer provides the same protection as enamel but protects the part of your tooth under the gum line.
When these tooth layers are damaged, the tooth’s dentin is exposed. Dentin contains what are known as “tubules,” which are tiny canals. Without protective covering over the dentin, heat and cold or acidic foods can go through those tubules and access the nerves and cells inside the tooth. That, in turn, triggers discomfort.
How to Treat Tooth Sensitivity
If you have sensitive teeth, or at least experience occasional pain from heat or cold, there are some steps you can take to find relief.
First, use a softer toothbrush and don’t brush quite as forcefully. This can also help prevent gum and enamel damage, limiting sensitivity in the first place.
It’s also worth purchasing and using a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. These are made without irritating ingredients, may have desensitizing ingredients to help reduce pain, and often contain ingredients to protect enamel.
If at-home treatments don’t work, talk with your dentist about prescription toothpaste or mouthwash. In some circumstances, you may benefit from fluoride treatments or even the placement of a crown or inlay.
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