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Why are My Teeth Sensitive?

Why are My Teeth Sensitive?
  • Enamel vs. Dentin
  • Common Culprits of Tooth Sensitivity
  • Ways to Combat Tooth Sensitivity
  • Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity
When you picture a luscious scoop of Babcock ice cream, do you think yum…or ouch? Tooth sensitivity can be a real pain. Ranging from an uncomfortable zinging sensation to a sharp stabbing feeling when eating hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods or drinks, tooth sensitivity sure can take the pleasure out of eating! But the good news is that it is treatable. Below are some common culprits for tooth sensitivity, as well as treatment options to help you get back to enjoying meal times again.

Dentin: The Soft Underbelly of the Tooth

Teeth become overly sensitive when the protective outer layer of the tooth–enamel–erodes, revealing the sensitive layer of dentin underneath. Dentin is more porous than enamel. It’s made up of microscopic tubules, through which heat, cold, acid, or sugar can travel to the nerves inside the tooth. Ouch! Dentin is yellow in color. When enamel wears thin, the yellow dentin begins to show through. If you’ve noticed that your teeth have become both more sensitive as well as yellower over the years, thinning enamel might be to blame. 

Enamel Eaters: Common Culprits of Tooth Sensitivity

Enamel is your teeth’s defense against corroding elements in the mouth that cause sensitivity. Unfortunately, there are many ways for that protective surface to break down. Cavities are a top offender when it comes to weakening enamel. A cavity is a hole in the enamel where bacteria has eaten through.  Another way that enamel can break down is through fractures in the teeth that can occur from trauma, old fillings, tooth grinding. Tooth grinding can also wear down the enamel on the teeth.  Dentin is also exposed when the gums pull up from the gum line, as can happen from aggressive toothbrushing, tobacco use, or gum disease. Enamel is not present on the root of the teeth that lie beneath the gum. So when gums recede, the exposed dentin is then vulnerable to temperature changes, acid, and bacteria in the mouth.

Ways to Combat Tooth Sensitivity

The first step in eliminating tooth sensitivity is to take care of your tooth enamel. Be sure to brush gently with a soft bristled brush so as not to damage your enamel. Use an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste, and avoid abrasive pastes such as charcoal toothpaste. Additionally, avoiding acid and sugar in your diet will help preserve tooth enamel. Acidic food and drink, such as soda and citrus, can result in the demineralization of your enamel. Sugary food creates an environment where bacteria feed on the sugar on the surface of the tooth. Both sugar and acid can lead to the breakdown of the tooth. Swapping out these foods and drinks for plain water and low-acid options can help keep your enamel strong.  Another way enamel is lost is through tooth grinding. The frequent clenching and grinding wears down the enamel, exposing the dentin. If you grind your teeth, visit your dentist to see how you can help alleviate your symptoms. Night guards are available to take the load off your teeth. Your dentist also may have exercises you can do during times of stress during your day, as well as identify certain triggers in your diet, such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco. For further reading: Can Stress Affect My Teeth?  Bleaching treatments and toothpastes can also sometimes cause sensitivity. If you’re currently using a whitening toothpaste, try switching to an anti-cavity paste instead.

Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity

If your symptoms are ongoing, your dentist may recommend a treatment for your tooth sensitivity. One approach to combating tooth sensitivity is to use toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth. This type of toothpaste contains potassium nitrate, which minimizes the sensation of pain in the tooth.  In-office treatments include using a fluoride gel to help strengthen the enamel you do have, having sealants placed, and replacing old or cracked fillings.  If gum disease is causing your symptoms, treatments such as scaling and root planing will help clean underneath the gum and allow them to reattach to the tooth. If gum recession is significant, your dentist may recommend a gum graft to bring your gum line back down to a healthy place and protect those sensitive tooth roots.

Madison, Wisconsin Dentistry

If tooth sensitivity is disrupting your day, schedule an appointment with us today. Our dentists will help you identify the source of your tooth sensitivity and prescribe a treatment to help take the yikes(!) out of your bite. Affiliated Dentists is proud to offer many dental services, including gum disease treatment in Madison, Wisconsin. If you think you might be a good candidate for a crown or bridge, please contact us today. Affiliated Dentists offers general, cosmetic, and restorative dentistry in Madison, Wisconsin.

Why are My Teeth Sensitive? brought to you by Dr. Mark Gustavson

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