Tooth sensitivity is one of the most prevalent dental problems. According to a recent study by the University of Washington, one in eight Americans has overly sensitive teeth. Young adults and other participants who did tooth whitening at home and had receding gums were the most affected by teeth sensitivity. Teeth sensitivity is felt like an abrupt, jolt of pain when teeth are exposed to hot, cold, acidic and sweet foods and drinks, or even air. Brushing or flossing may also trigger this pain, and while it doesn't last long, it can be excruciating if not addressed soon enough. The Downey Dentist has prepared this informative guide to help you understand what causes tooth sensitivity.

  1. Consuming Highly Acidic Food and Drink

The level of acidity is determined by how much pH is found in food and beverages: high acidity (pH 0); neutral (pH 7); and alkaline (pH 14). There are plenty of acidic foods in everyday diets such as lemon, pickles, sweetened beverages, processed foods, sugar, some dairy products, etc. While most of these foods have considerable nutritional value, consuming them too often heightens the risk for tooth sensitivity. Citrus fruits like lemon have low pH, which makes them highly acidic, and so does their juices.

Fresh vegetables like sauerkraut and beets have lesser acidity levels while drinks like beer contain much phosphorus. Eliminating these foods and beverages from your diet may not be feasible, but you can substitute them with less acidic options. Low acid foods include whole grains like quinoa, unsweetened yogurt, and milk, olive oil, herbal teas.

  1. Hot or Cold Drinks and Food

You may not notice a sensitive tooth until you take very hot or too cold meals or beverages. This kind of sensitivity is characterized by a chill, shooting sensation in the affected teeth, and a sharp pain depending on severity. This sensitivity usually happens when the enamel has thinned over time due to wear and tear, thus exposing the dentin inside the tooth. The dentin is a calcified tissue in the body that forms a tooth along with three other components, which are the enamel, dental pulp, and cementum.

This yellowish tissue is more robust than bone but softer than the enamel, and its core function is supporting the enamel. The dentin differs from the hard outer coating in two ways: it is sensitive, and it forms throughout a person's life. If your teeth are overly sensitive when taking meals, visit a dentist for an examination.

  1. Excessive Use of Mouthwash

Incorporating mouthwash in your oral hygiene regimen yields benefits such as whitening teeth, reducing cavities, fighting gum disease, preventing tartar buildup, and some are therapeutic when suffering from gingivitis. These benefits notwithstanding, excessive use of mouthwash – especially one with alcohol – has adverse effects such as triggering sensitivity. It is recommended to use alcohol-free mouthwashes, whose main ingredient is typically cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC). Moderate usage of mouthwash gives you the results you desire without exposing your teeth to unwarranted sensitivity.

  1. Suffering from Gum Disease

Gum disease (periodontal disease) is an array of inflammatory conditions that affect tissues surrounding the teeth. At the onset of gum disease, the gums become distended, appear reddish, and you may experience some bleeding. This cluster of symptoms is essentially gingivitis. If left untreated, gum disease leads to gum recession, which then leads to tooth sensitivity.

When this happens, your dentist will focus on managing the underlying problem such as gum disease to see if the sensitivity goes away. Canker sores can also pave the way for tooth sensitivity. These sores are small, shallow lesions that develop on soft tissues inside the mouth or at the bottom of the gums. Managing all these kinds of problems requires intervention by a qualified dentist to give a proper diagnosis first.

  1. Cracked or Fractured Tooth

Many reasons cause teeth to crack or fracture such as being subjected to excessive force, a grinding habit, blows to the mouth, e.g., from a sports injury, sudden changes in mouth temperature, biting on hard foods, or advancing beyond 50 years. Cracked teeth manifest in the form of craze lines, split tooth, cracks extending to gum level, fractured cusps, or a vertical root fracture. Any of these fractures exposes teeth to sensitivity and related problems that necessitate a medical intervention before things escalate.

  1. High Accumulation of Plaque

Plaque is a clammy deposit on teeth in which bacteria reproduce, and when it accumulates around gum margins, it can lead to gingivitis. Plaque forms naturally after the food you consume is broken down and the bacteria in your mouth feast on the simple sugars. These bacteria then excrete a waste product in the form of acid, but we remove it by brushing and flossing every day. However, past the 48-hour mark, the bacteria harden and calcify so much that removing it by regular oral hygiene practice is impracticable. Apart from yellowing of teeth and bad breath, excessive plaque erodes the tooth's enamel, which is the hard outer covering that protects teeth. When this happens, the affected tooth is susceptible to sensitivity.

  1. Excessive Force when Brushing

Applying too much force or using a toothbrush with hard bristles when brushing is another reason for teeth sensitivity. Over time, this habit wears off the protective coating atop the teeth (enamel), thus exposing microscopic hollow tubes that travel down to your dental nerves. Extreme temperatures in the mouth or high acidity are harmful to these hollow tubes, and this triggers tooth sensitivity and discomfort.

The Downey Dentist recommends using a softer toothbrush and being gentle when cleaning your teeth. We advise proper oral hygiene regimen to care for your mouth plus a complimentary toothbrush.

  1. Recent Dental Procedure

If you recently had a dental procedure like crown installation, tooth extraction, or a root canal, it is reasonable to experience sensitivity. Nevertheless, if the discomfort persists longer than what the dentist projected, it could be indicative of an emerging infection. Return to the dentist for a checkup to determine what is causing the sensitivity and how to manage it.

  1. Teeth Whitening

The University of Washington found that making teeth whiter using chemicals alters the physical structure of the tooth and can open the tubes or canals therein hence making them sensitive. Using tooth-whitening toothpaste exposes your teeth to the whitening agents incorporated in the toothpaste formulas. Over time, the enamel starts to wear off, and your teeth develop a level of sensitivity that may come and go.

How Can I Treat Sensitive Teeth?

Based on the causative factors above, it is nearly impossible to avoid the pain that comes with sensitive teeth. If you experience this discomfort from time to time, there are medically approved remedies for addressing this problem depending on the patient's needs.

  • Soft toothbrush: if you experience sensitivity when brushing your teeth, switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush and apply gentle strokes when brushing. Vigorous scrubbing could hurt the gums. Also, use a non-abrasive toothpaste.
  • Fluoride: applying fluoride to the affected teeth helps in strengthening the enamel and control pain. You can have this done at the dentist and get a prescription fluoride for home use.
  • Desensitizing toothpaste: applying desensitizing toothpaste several times can block out the pain that comes with sensitivity. Ask your dentist to recommend a suitable brand, and you can get one from a pharmacy or a regular store.
  • Mouth guard: people who grind their teeth while sleeping risk fracturing their teeth, which leads to sensitivity. We highly recommend wearing a mouthguard for protection.
  • Desensitizing or bonding: when tooth sensitivity is attributed to exposed root surfaces, you can address this by applying bonding resin to these root surfaces. This procedure should be done by a qualified dentist, and localized anesthesia may be necessary.
  • Surgical gum graft: sensitivity due to loss of gum tissue can be addressed by taking some gum tissue from a different part of the mouth then grafting it to the sensitive area. By doing so, you protect the roots hence controlling the sensitivity effect.
  • Root canal: for severe tooth sensitivity that is not responding to any measures, your dentist may recommend a root canal procedure. The issue could be an infection of the dental pulp and curing; this requires removing the infected pulp and sealing the hollow. Root canals are the most successful procedures for addressing tooth sensitivity permanently.

Experts at New York University deduces that teeth sensitivity is a universal problem. Nonetheless, some cultures are more prone to experiencing sensitivity due to their acidic diet and other factors like consuming high amounts of wine and alcohol. Adults in the 18 – 44 age bracket stand a higher risk of teeth sensitivity as compared to older adults according to a University of Washington research. Since the dentin continues to grow over a lifetime, it becomes thicker hence providing more insulation as you get older.

Find a Dentist for Tooth Sensitivity Near Me

If you often suffer from tooth sensitivity due to extreme weather changes, when you consume certain foods, or for any of the reasons discussed above, it is vital to get a dental exam. The pain may become unbearable and worsen the condition if you don’t visit a dentist as soon as possible. At The Downey Dentist, we have many years of experience handling tooth sensitivity cases and addressing them as per the unique patient's needs. Call us today at 562-746-0350 for a free consultation to figure out the problem and start the necessary treatment plan.

We have other convenient locations near you: Los Angeles Dentist, Lomita Dentist, Carson Dentist, Hawthorne Dentist