Sensitive Teeth 101

If you have occasionally sensitive teeth, you’re far from alone. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, approximately one in eight people have sensitive teeth. People who describe tooth sensitivity most commonly refer to pain and discomfort when teeth are exposed to heat and cold, but others describe sensitivity when exposed to sweet and acidic foods and drinks or even when breathing in extremely cold air.

Teeth sensitivity is sometimes referred to as dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. What are the causes of sensitive teeth, and what can dentists do to help if you find it debilitating, as some do.

What causes sensitive teeth?

While there are a range of treatment options available for seriously sensitive teeth, whether a particular option is appropriate or necessary will depend on the underlying cause of the sensitivity. While there are several causes of persistent tooth sensitivity, there are five particularly significant ones.

Tooth decay. One of the most significant causes of sensitive teeth is tooth decay that has reached the interior of your tooth to affect the pulp (nerve) inside the tooth. Infected tooth pulp can cause severe tooth sensitivity.

Misaligned teeth. Teeth that are positioned out of ideal alignment can cause exceptional pressure on teeth not well-equipped to handle that pressure. That inordinate pressure damages the enamel and other tissues of the teeth, which damage can cause sensitivity.

Ineffective dental fillings. A poorly filled cavity or filling that has broken or shifted can result in sensitive teeth.

Receded gums. Your gums seal the interior jaw, support your teeth, and protect the roots of your teeth from exposure. Periodontal disease can cause your gums to recede, eventually exposing those roots and resulting in highly sensitive teeth and roots.

Bruxism. Sleep bruxism is a condition characterized by clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth as you sleep, though bruxism occurs during waking hours, as well. The pressures exerted by that clenching and grinding can cause damage to dental work, damaged teeth, and other broad systems, including sensitive teeth.

Treatments for sensitive teeth

Tooth sensitivity attributable to serious and progressing tooth decay may require root canal therapy in York to eliminate the infection and its symptoms, including sensitivity. A root canal is generally accepted as the most effective form of therapy to address and eliminate the most debilitating forms of tooth sensitivity.

Orthodontic work to alter the alignment of your teeth and even cosmetic dentistry options such as porcelain veneers may assist with tooth sensitivity caused by bite misalignment. A damaged or missing filling that produces teeth sensitivity may need to be replaced — either as a filling or a crown. Night guards and, if necessary, alterations to the biting surfaces of your teeth may effectively eliminate the tooth sensitivity caused by sleep (or awake) bruxism. If your tooth sensitivity is caused by receding gums due to periodontal disease, treatments for that periodontal disease that may also address your tooth sensitivity include gum grafting or dental bonding to protect your teeth’s roots from exposure.

You and your dentist can address general teeth sensitivity by using desensitizing toothpaste purchased from drugstores or recommended by your dentist to block the transmission of pain; and by applying fluoride to the vulnerable areas. Fluoride application can be done in the dentist’s office, or even at home with prescribed fluoride and custom trays.

While many people experience fleeting and minor sensitive teeth that are easily tolerated, teeth sensitivity can be extremely debilitating at its worst. Teeth sensitivity is almost entirely avoidable and easily preventable with careful attention to daily oral hygiene habits and with early intervention by your dentist. If your teeth are sensitive more than occasionally and ever debilitating, contact a dentist near you and ask for their help.

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