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Sensitive Teeth: What’s Causing It and How It Can Be Avoided?

If you have sensitive teeth, you’re not alone. According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), approximately 40 million U.S. adults experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. Depending on the sensitivity, you may experience discomfort when your teeth come into contact with liquids and foods that are very hot, cold, acidic, or sticky.

No matter what, good news: with the right diagnosis and treatment, you can greatly reduce or even eliminate tooth sensitivity. If you’re experiencing discomfort, as always, talk to your dentist about possible treatment options.

Remember, if you have a toothache, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a cavity. A toothache may be caused by sensitivity due to another condition.

Common Causes of Sensitive Teeth

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the soft inner parts of the tooth (dentin and pulp) are exposed. These parts of the tooth contain nerve endings that are extremely sensitive to hot, cold, sugary, acidic, or sticky foods and liquids. Many factors can contribute to this kind of exposure, including:

Tooth Decay, Worn Fillings, or Broken Teeth: These conditions can leave the inside of your tooth (this is called dentin) exposed. There are many, many nerve endings in the dentin of your teeth, which can result in hypersensitivity.

Worn Tooth Enamel: Enamel is the visible part of your teeth and acts as a strong barrier that protects the inner layers of your tooth from decay. Over time, many things can contribute to enamel erosion, exposing the inside of the tooth. Some of the most common causes of enamel erosion include:

  • Aggressive tooth brushing
  • Sugary and acidic foods and beverages
  • Teeth grinding (also called bruxism)

Once tooth enamel is destroyed, the body does not make more, so it’s very important to do everything you can to minimize this. Learn How to Prevent Tooth Enamel Loss.

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Gum Disease: Periodontal disease occurs when the gum line recedes, usually due to poor dental hygiene. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 47 percent of Americans have some degree of periodontal disease. Gum line recession can leave the root of the tooth exposed, resulting in painful sensitivity.

Be on the alert for signs and symptoms, refer to our related post for more information: Gingivitis: How to Look for the Signs.

Dental Procedures: Following procedures, such as fillings, crowns, or bleaching, teeth are often more sensitive. While this effect is relatively common, it is usually temporary.

Tooth sensitivity can also be caused by the use of certain kinds of toothpaste (especially those containing teeth-whitening chemicals) and mouthwashes containing alcohol and other harsh chemicals.

What to Do About Sensitive Teeth

If your teeth are sensitive, talk with your dentist. They will be able to determine the underlying cause of your tooth sensitivity and put together an action plan to reduce or eliminate your discomfort.

Depending on the cause and severity of your sensitivity, treatment may be relatively straightforward, including filling cavities or replacing worn fillings. If your dentist determines that teeth grinding may be contributing to the problem, he or she may recommend a using a bite guard. There are also special toothpastes  both prescription and over-the-counter  that are formulated to help with sensitivity. More serious issues, like moderate to severe periodontal disease, may require treatment by a specialist.

Temporary Treatments Options

While waiting for long-term treatment, you may be able to reduce sensitivity by drinking liquids through a straw or using a warm compress to alleviate discomfort. Talk with your dentist about other temporary treatments that may be helpful.

Experiencing Painful or Uncomfortable Tooth Sensitivity?

If you are currently suffering with teeth sensitivity or have the signs and symptoms of any of the causes listed above, grab a coupon and schedule an appointment with one of the experienced dentists at The Happy Tooth – North Carolina’s leading family dental provider in Cary, Chapel Hill, and Mount Airy.


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