If the fear of dental pain has ever caused you to skip the ice in your soda, let your coffee cool completely, or turned down a bowl of ice cream on a hot summer day, you may have sensitive teeth. Specially formulated toothpaste can help, but to understand why and how, you first need to know a little about this surprisingly common problem.
The medical term for sensitive teeth is dentin hypersensitivity. Dentin is the soft material that makes up the inner portion of the tooth. It is packed with nerve endings, but it is normally protected by the hard enamel on the tooth’s surface and cementum on the tooth’s roots.
When the enamel or cementum is worn down or missing, foods and beverages can reach the dentin. Hot and cold temperatures frequently cause nerve irritation inside this sensitive portion of the tooth, resulting in sharp, short-lived pain. Dentin hypersensitivity is the tendency to experience this nerve irritation.
Dentin hypersensitivity can be caused by many things. Cracked teeth, leaking fillings, and advanced tooth decay are among the most common. Gum disease is another common culprit, especially if you experience the pain only near the gum line.
In addition, you can bring on dentin hypersensitivity by brushing too hard, especially with a hard-bristled toothbrush, or by grinding your teeth. Eating a diet that is too high in acidic foods can also trigger tooth sensitivity, especially if you do not adequately brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with plain water afterwards. In some cases, brushing with whitening or tartar control toothpaste can lead to dentin hypersensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity can also be caused by dental procedures, from root canals to simple cleanings. This is generally mild and short-lived, but always bring it to your dentist’s attention if it persists for more than a few days. In the meantime, brush with a toothpaste for sensitive teeth and try to avoid eating or drinking very hot or cold items.
Choosing a Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth
Toothpaste for sensitive teeth is specially formulated to block the exposed nerve endings in your tooth’s dentin. This can dramatically reduce sensitivity, regardless of the cause. Always choose a toothpaste that is high in fluoride as well, which strengthens and further protects your teeth. For best results, use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth every time you brush for at least one month.
When to See the Dentist
Dentin hypersensitivity is never normal, so it is important to see the dentist if you experience sensitivity for more than a few days. Your dentist will carefully evaluate your mouth to try to learn the root cause. In many cases, treating the problem, whether by replacing a leaky filling or switching to a softer toothbrush, will eliminate the dentin hypersensitivity.
In some cases, however, there is not an obvious cause. Some people simply have more sensitive teeth than others. If this is true for you, your dentist will give you ways to manage the condition. This might include prescription toothpaste or mouth rinse, extra treatments such as massaging toothpaste into your gum line after brushing, or regular fluoride applications. The goal is to minimize the sensitivity as much as possible, so your treatment plan might continue to be refined as you and your dentist learn what works best for you.
Sensitive teeth are a surprisingly common problem. In most cases, treating the underlying issue will solve the problem. In other cases, no obvious cause can be found. Either way, brushing with a specially formulated toothpaste for sensitive teeth can ease the pain by blocking the exposed nerve endings. See your dentist for any tooth sensitivity that lasts for more than three or four days, and you will soon be able to enjoy your favorite hot or cold foods.
At Family Dental Care of Bellevue, we are committed to providing quality dental care to our patients and their families. We are proud to have been voted one of the best dental offices in Washington State. If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to call 425-643-5778 today to make an appointment for your initial consultation.