What Causes Teeth Sensitivity?
The first outer layer of teeth is enamel which is white and hard, encasing the second inner layer called dentin. Dentin is made up of tubules that are microscopic in size and the tubules contain nerve endings. Teeth sensitivity (also known as dentin hypersensitivity) is caused when the hard enamel gets eroded away to expose the dentin (and therefore your teeth’s nerve endings).
There are several causes of teeth sensitivity:
- Enamel erosion due to over-vigorous brushing (especially with a hard-bristled toothbrush);
- Enamel erosion due to acid (this can be either due to ingesting highly acidic foods and drinks or due to vomiting. It’s not pretty but vomit is actually very highly acidic);
- Tooth decay, broken or leaking fillings, or cracked teeth that also expose teeth dentin;
- Tooth root exposure by gum recession (gums naturally recede over time, but gum recession could also be caused by inadequate oral hygiene like not flossing, or advanced gum disease where pockets of plaque develop around and under the gums)
- Enamel erosion due to teeth grinding; and
- Temporary sensitivity after dental treatment (particularly common with bleaching, fillings, or even crowns).
What can You Do about It?
First and foremost, go see your dentist. He or she will be able to accurately diagnose the real cause/s of your teeth sensitivity, and then recommend the most suitable treatment option/s for you, which may include:
- A soft-bristled toothbrush and a less aggressive brushing technique;
- Eating and drinking more dairy (which helps coat your teeth and fight against the acid);
- Not brushing straight after your teeth’s direct contact with acidic substances (this includes vomiting as well – we recognise that you want to brush straight after you vomit because it’s gross, but the acid actually makes your enamel weaker so when you go to brush, you brush away more of your enamel. Instead, swish water around your mouth first and spit it out to try and take away some of the acidity. Wait for at least an hour before very gently brushing your teeth);
- Putting in new or replacing broken fillings;
- If your tooth has a shallow crack that does not go below the gum line, your dentist can fill the crack and/or place a crown over your tooth to hold the tooth structure together. If the crack goes deeper, below the gum line, unfortunately that tooth will have to be extracted;
- A more effective flossing technique to help with gum recession;
- Desensitising toothpaste (to help block the nerve endings);
- Fluoride gel (which strengthens your teeth enamel);
- Periodontal debridement (which removes large amounts of plaque from your teeth and under your gums using hand instruments and/or an ultrasonic device);
- A surgical gum graft (if the gum recession is too extensive);
- An occlusal splint (for teeth grinding); or
- Root canal treatment (for very severe and recurring teeth sensitivity).
As a side note, teeth grinding can grind down the occlusal surface of your teeth, but clenching may also result from jaw muscle spasms. These muscle spasms can then refer pain into your tooth/teeth. To treat muscle spasms, muscle relaxants or occlusal splints may help. Ultimately, it is best to see your dentist for his or her accurate diagnosis and recommended treatment options.