You’re propped up on your elbows, mid-conversation, utterly entrenched by the oncoming details of your colleague’s epic tale. As you grip your coffee mug for dear life, you take a sip, and just as they’re about to unfold the finality of their adventure, you’re blinded by searing pain instead.
Whether from something hot, cold, or acidic, tooth pain has come for us all at one point or another. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, over 40 million adults in the United States suffer from regular tooth sensitivity. If you find yourself victim to ongoing tooth sensitivity, read on to discover what causes sensitive teeth and how to avoid living a life of dental discomfort.
Why Does Tooth Sensitivity Happen?
You may be asking in frustration, why do I have tooth sensitivity? First, to understand what the causes of tooth sensitivity are, we have to understand why it happens in the first place, as well as the general signs and symptoms of tooth sensitivity.
Breaking Down Sensitivity
Dentin, the layer that sits directly under the enamel, makes up one of the four main components of our teeth. And unfortunately, one of the main contributing factors to its differentiation from enamel, is how sensitive it is.
Dentin hypersensitivity, otherwise known as tooth sensitivity, is caused when exposed dentin surfaces come into contact with various stimuli such as hot or cold food and drinks, cold air, acids, sugars, pressure, or even brushing your teeth too rigorously. This then irritates the nerve in the root of a tooth, or surrounding a tooth which sends a message to your brain that it’s in danger, thus creating the sensation of pain or discomfort.
Exposing the Culprit
Although the true cause of dentin exposure remains to be unanimously decided upon, most dental professionals believe the main cause is receding gums that lead to exposure of root surfaces, enamel loss, and general tooth wear.
Receding gums are common. According to the CDC, almost half of all US adults have periodontitis, a form of gum disease that can cause gum recession. Gum recession also occurs naturally as we get older, which in turn exposes more dentin and creates further sensitivity.
So, let’s take a deeper look at what causes tooth sensitivity to hot and cold changes, sugars, and acidic foods and drinks, and why some people are prone to the uncomfortable sensations of it.
Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Although there are a number of underlying reasons for those sporadic and annoying pains, here are the most common tooth sensitivity causes:
- Excessive & Vigorous Brushing: Using a hard-bristled toothbrush and brushing with too much pressure or too excessively wears down the tooth enamel and can cause the gums to recede. Both of these factors combined mean more dentin exposure and thus creates more tooth sensitivity.
- Gum Recession & Disease: Periodontal disease and gum recession is the main cause of tooth sensitivity. It’s often how the dentin and root surface of the tooth can become exposed. Make sure you’re using a mouthwash that combats bacteria known to cause gum disease and a quality flosser such as our ToothShower Water Flosser.
- Acidic Foods & Drinks: Regular or excessive consumption of foods or drinks with high acidity such as sugary food and drinks, tomatoes, pickles, citrus fruits, processed sugars, and pineapples, can also erode tooth enamel.
- Grinding Your Teeth: Grinding or clenching is another common habit that can cause tooth sensitivity by wearing down the enamel and exposing the dentin.
- Cracked Teeth: Chipped, cracked, or broken teeth can become problematic for a number of reasons. They can create tooth sensitivity, pain, inflammation, and eventually lead to decay if not taken care of properly. Bacteria loves to dive into the cracks and crevices of our teeth, which can then enter the pulp and cause further pain and discomfort.
- Plaque Buildup: When teeth aren’t properly taken care of, plaque can build up around the base of the tooth where the enamel meets our gums. Plaque then gets into root surfaces which can cause tooth sensitivity.
- Bleaching & Whitening Products: Although we love the idea of pearly whites, dental bleaching and whitening products, toothpastes, and treatments can break down the enamel and cause severe tooth sensitivity if not done properly or used too often.
- Age: As we age, the physical structure of our teeth changes. The general wear and tear will also begin to take its toll and we naturally find our gums receding and our enamel weakened. According to the National Institutes of Health, adults aged 20 to 50 are the most likely to report having sensitive teeth. The peak is between the ages of 30 to 40.
- Mouthwash Use: Some mouthwashes contain acids that can actually worsen tooth sensitivity if you have any exposed dentin. Ask your dentist which mouthwash would be best to use, typically a more neutral and less invasive fluoride solution is effective and better for the health of your teeth.
- Dental Procedures: If you’ve recently had a dental procedure such as teeth cleaning, root planing, tooth restoration, or crown placement, it’s not uncommon to experience tooth sensitivity following your dental visit. If the sensitivity still occurs after 6 weeks, however, make sure to reach out to your dentist to have it evaluated.
- Smoking: Unfortunately for the smokers among us, tobacco smoke inhalation can cause dental upsets in a number of ways. It can wear down the enamel of the teeth, cause gum disease, recession, and inflammation, all of which can be the reason for tooth sensitivity.
- Acid Reflux: If acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease weren’t painful and frustrating enough, stomach bile from reflux or consistent vomiting (such as bulimia) can also drastically wear down tooth enamel, causing sensitivity.
The question is, with so many possible causes of tooth sensitivity, what can you do to ensure a more comfortable and pain-free lifestyle that doesn’t make you jump every time you treat yourself to some ice cream?
Tooth Sensitivity Prevention
Whether from abrasive tooth brushing, poor dental hygiene, or acid erosions, there are a number of reasons why tooth sensitivity can occur. If you’re suffering from dentin hypersensitivity, try these methods to combat it:
- Putting Oral Hygiene First: We all know that brushing and flossing feel like boring activities and there’s a number of other things you’d prefer to be doing, but I’m sure you’d also prefer not to spend extra time in the dental chair if you don’t have to.
So for great oral hygiene, make sure you’re brushing your teeth at a 45-degree angle to your gums, moving your brush back and forth in short strokes, and using gentle pressure. When it comes to flossing, the best method is a water flosser. Try using ToothShower’s Water Flosser which allows you to control temperature and pressure settings. Best yet, it lives in your shower, meaning the chances you’ll forget to floss are slim to none.
- Soft-Bristled Brushes: If you’re using a hard-bristled brush, you might want to rethink how it’s affecting your teeth and opt for a soft-bristled brush instead. Hard brushing can cause damage to your tooth’s enamel and irritate the gums (which will cause further tooth sensitivity and discomfort).
If you know you’re the type of person that brushes to erase their teeth rather than just clean them, start brushing more gently around the gum line and see if that clears up any tooth sensitivity.
- Toothpaste for Sensitivity: There are several high ranking brands of toothpaste specifically for sensitive teeth such as Sensodyne and Colgate Sensitive. Once you start brushing with a desensitizing toothpaste dedicated to combating tooth sensitivity, you should experience a decrease in your own discomfort while eating or drinking. Try a few different brands until you find the best fit and look for a fluoride toothpaste rather than a tartar control toothpaste.
- A Healthy Diet: As foods and drinks with high acidity are often culprits of tooth sensitivity, try and cut back on your consumption and introduce a more alkaline, dental-friendly diet to your lifestyle.
- Fluoridated Products: Fluoridated mouthwash such as ACT and Listerine Fluoride can also decrease sensitivity when used regularly. Ask your dentist which product may be the best for you.
- Stop Clenching and Grinding Your Teeth: If you tend to grind and/or clench your teeth, you should pick up a mouthguard to use while you sleep. This will work to reduce the damage you’re doing to your enamel. There are a number of mouthguards available at your local drug store or that can be purchased online.
There are also various ways to train yourself to get out of the habit of clenching and grinding which takes a little more time and dedication but are worth the effort to ensure a life sans tooth sensitivity. Try positioning your tongue between your teeth when you notice you’re clenching, getting teeth spacers, avoiding drinks high in caffeine, and jaw relaxation exercises.
- Visit the Dentist Regularly: Regular visits to the dentist ensure you’re getting the professional support you need to maintain proper dental care. With regular teeth cleanings, checkups, and fluoride treatments, your teeth will be poised for perfection and substantially less tooth sensitivity.
If you’ve tried several of the above methods, make sure to check in with your dentist about the possible tooth sensitivity treatment procedures available to you.
A Last Word
Although there are many common causes for tooth sensitivity, being diligent in your oral hygiene will aid you on your way to a happier, healthier lifestyle. This very feat is often mutually exclusive with a reduction of pain and discomfort.
Try ToothShower’s Water Flosser today to help you mitigate tooth sensitivity, keep a consistent oral hygiene regimen, and strengthen your gum health!
- Live Science. Tooth Sensitivity: Causes, Remedies & Treatment. https://www.livescience.com/44377-sensitive-teeth.html
- Wikipedia. Dentin Hypersensitivity.
- Perio.Org. Half of American Adults Have Periodontal Disease.
- Colgate. Why Are My Teeth Sensitive? Is It Related to Age?. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/conditions/tooth-sensitivity/why-are-my-teeth-sensitive-is-it-related-to-age-1214
- Cleveland Clinic. Teeth Sensitivity: Possible Causes. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/10954-teeth-sensitivity/possible-causes
- MouthHealthy.Org. Brushing Your Teeth.