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Understanding Sensitive Teeth

If you have tooth sensitivity that’s not caused by inflammation or infection, then you’re probably painfully aware of how inconvenient it is. Whether it’s in response to temperature, sugars, or acids, tooth sensitivity can be controlled, and your pain can be alleviated with some changes in your habits and lifestyle.

When your teeth are overly sensitive, you may have problems with proper hygiene like flossing and brushing as well as drinking a hot beverage or breathing cold air. When you understand the causes of sensitive teeth, your life can be more enjoyable and free of pain. You’ll also be able to resume activities and eat foods that you enjoy but have been avoiding because they caused pain.

Usually, tooth sensitivity occurs due to exposure of the root, but it can also occur due to a crack in the enamel or from tooth decay. Aggressive brushing habits, gingivitis, or periodontal disease can also cause your teeth to become overly sensitive because they expose the nerves in the tooth roots. The pain occurs when the exposed nerves contact any of the above.

To determine the best course of treatment, your dentist will need to determine the underlying cause of the sensitivity. Options such as toothpaste for sensitive teeth, fluoride supplements, or a dental sealant can help alleviate tooth sensitivity, but if they are ineffective, then you may need a root canal. Your dentist will evaluate your tooth sensitivity against the solutions you’ve tried to determine the best course of treatment for your unique needs.

What Are the Common Causes of Sensitive Teeth?

Although the tendency to have sensitive teeth can be genetic, more often it’s due to personal habits and lifestyle, and these are more readily changed. Usually, tooth sensitivity is due to one or more of the following:

  1. Improper brushing habits such as using a toothbrush with hard bristles or too much pressure. Switching to a soft-bristled toothbrush and using gentle pressure can make a substantial difference.
  2. Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, pickles, tomatoes, and other highly acidic foods can increase tooth sensitivity, so avoid them. Highly acidic beverages can have the same effect, and the best remedy is to avoid them also.
  3. Mouthwash that contains alcohol and some other ingredients can increase tooth sensitivity, but you can buy alcohol-free mouthwash and sensitive-teeth mouthwash.
  4. Gingivitis or periodontal disease can cause your gums to recede and expose the roots. However, your dentist can treat the inflammation and apply a sealant that will protect the tooth nerves.
  5. If you had a recent dental procedure, your teeth may temporarily become sensitive. However, this will probably dissipate over time, but if it doesn’t, then contact your dentist.
  6. Bruxism, or tooth grinding, can erode your tooth enamel and expose the nerves. Wearing a custom night guard can eliminate damage to your teeth, so ask your dentist about a custom night guard.
  7. There’s a chip or crack in one or more teeth. If you notice a chip or crack in a tooth, make a dental appointment without delay. Teeth aren’t self-healing, so you’ll need professional intervention. Otherwise, you risk losing the tooth in the future.
  8. If you notice decay around a filling, it will need to be replaced. Otherwise, the decay can spread, and you’ll lose the tooth and may also lose adjacent teeth.
  9. If you’re using tooth-whitening toothpaste or other tooth-whitening products, they may be causing your tooth sensitivity. Try switching to a whitening product made for sensitive teeth.

Prompt attention to the causes of your sensitive teeth will yield the best results, but if you’re unsure where to begin, then schedule an appointment with your dentist.

How Can I Help My Sensitive Teeth?

Regular dental checkups are the best remedy for sensitive teeth. Your dentist will spot the issue more quickly and may provide a speedy resolution to your issues. However, the following steps may offer quick relief to the problem of tooth sensitivity.

  • Switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush and use gentle pressure.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash specifically designed for sensitive teeth.
  • Be assiduous in your dental hygiene regimen.
  • Wear a nightguard if you have bruxism.
  • Get regular dental checkups from your Northern Virginia dentist.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that are high in acid.

If you’re unsure whether you have bruxism, ask your dentist. Habitual tooth grinding will leave signs that a professional can recognize and treat, so don’t hesitate to ask.

Highly acidic foods and beverages, including wine and carbonated drinks, can erode your tooth enamel. If you eat or drink something high in acid, then be sure to rinse your mouth thoroughly with plain water afterward. If you brush immediately, however, you can cause additional erosion to your enamel, so wait a few minutes before brushing.

Are There Dental Tips to Help Sensitive Teeth?

The best dental tips won’t take the place of professional advice, but they can help in the interim. While you’re waiting for your dental appointment, try the following:

  1. Look into fluoride treatments that can be applied directly to the teeth. When applied to sensitive areas, it strengthens the tooth enamel to reduce or eliminate future sensitivity issues.
  2. Use desensitizing toothpaste, which is designed to prevent substances from reaching the tooth nerves. After a few uses, the pain should lessen or disappear.
  3. If your tooth sensitivity is due to receding gums, your dentist can perform a gum graft that will protect the nerves.

If You Have Sensitive Teeth…

Sensitive teeth are treatable and in some cases, completely preventable. Using good oral hygiene with the proper equipment, such as an appropriate toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush, can alleviate some of the causes of sensitive teeth. Be sure to floss daily and get regular dental checkups. You should get an annual checkup at a minimum, but every six months is better. The American Dental Association publishes guidelines on good oral hygiene that may help you establish the regimen that’s best for you.

When you practice good oral hygiene that includes regular dental checkups, you can dramatically reduce the pain of sensitive teeth, and you may be able to eliminate it entirely.

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