Having sensitive teeth can mean anything from getting a mild twinge to having severe discomfort that can continue for several hours. It can also be an early warning sign of more serious dental problems.
Tooth sensitivity can be triggered by a number of everyday activities, the most common being:
- drinking or eating cold things
- breathing in cold air
- eating sweets
- drinking or eating hot things
- touching the teeth with our tongue
Cold things are the biggest problem for people who suffer from sensitive teeth, with 67% feeling sensitivity with cold things. Breathing cold air triggers sensitivity in 51% of sufferers.
Some people will even experience tooth sensitivity when brushing their teeth, particularly if rinsing with cold water.
Sensitive teeth can start at any time but is most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. It’s less common to affect people in their early teens or when they are over 70. Women are more likely to be affected by sensitivity than men.
Types of tooth sensitivity
There are two types of tooth sensitivity:
- dentinal sensitivity
- pulpal sensitivity
Dentinal sensitivity can develop when the middle layer of the tooth, the dentin, becomes exposed.
In healthy teeth, the dentin is covered by cementum below the gum line and by enamel above the gum line.
Dentin contains tiny openings called tubules. Inside each tubule lies a nerve branch that comes from the tooth’s pulp. The pulp is a mass of blood vessels and nerves in the centre of each tooth. Any teeth with exposed dentin are susceptible to becoming sensitive.
Causes of dentinal sensitivity
- receding gums that expose the tooth root
- not brushing your teeth regularly and in the recommended way
- brushing too hard, this can wear away the enamel and expose the underlying dentin
- leaving tooth decay untreated
- cracked teeth, these can easily go undetected without regular dental check ups
- old fillings that have deteriorated over time can become cracked
- teeth whitening can cause sensitivity for a short time during and after treatment
- grinding the teeth together (bruxism) can wear down the enamel and expose the dentin
- drinking and eating acidic liquids and food too often
Pulpal sensitivity is a reaction of the tooth’s pulp. The pulp consists of blood vessels and nerves and is the central nervous system of the tooth. Pulpal sensitivity tends to affect only a single tooth.
Causes of pulpal sensitivity
- tooth decay
- tooth infection
- a cracked or broken tooth
- a recent filling that has caused a reaction in the tooth’s pulp
If you feel a sharp pain upon biting but the pain disappears when you release the bit you may have a broken or cracked filling.
Home treatment for sensitive teeth
There are plenty of toothpastes specially formulated for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes can take anything from a few days to several weeks to take effect. Sensodyne worked wonders for me; a tooth that had be niggling away at me for ages lost its sensitivity in less than a week. I stopped using the toothpaste after another week or so and the sensitivity has never returned in that tooth.
You could also try a specially formulated sensitive relief mouthwash or gel. I can’t promise Sensodyne or any other over the counter sensitive protection will work for you but it’s well worth a try.
If you find sensitive relief toothpaste, gel or mouthwash doesn’t work for you after a week or so you should discuss your teeth sensitivity with your dental professional.
Hopefully you won’t need to do that, over the counter products can be very effective, as I found out.