Having sensitive teeth can be really unpleasant. It can prevent you chewing. It can prevent you eating certain foods. That sharp, electric feeling can even hit you when you breath in on a cold day. In this article, we are going to look at what causes tooth sensitivity and how we can prevent it.
What causes sensitive teeth?
Tooth sensitivity is that short, sharp, electric pain that can happen when we eat something really cold, really hot or maybe something very sweet. It is usually strong and sharp but only lasts for a few seconds.
Please be aware that if your pain feels different then this may not be sensitivity. For example, if you are getting a sharp pain but it lasts for more than a few seconds, this is not sensitivity. This may be toothache caused by a cavity. If you are experiencing pain, you should go to see your dentist. We’ve put together an article on different tooth pains so that you can get an idea of what might be causing your toothache.
So tooth sensitivity is short and sharp. It usually only lasts a few seconds. It is caused by an area where ‘dentine’ is exposed.
The top of a tooth is covered by a protective layer of enamel. The rest of the tooth is made of dentine. The enamel insulates the dentine. But if an area of dentine becomes exposed, this can irritate the nerve of the tooth. This causes sensitivity.
Dentine can become exposed if the enamel wears or breaks away. This can happen because of grinding or damage caused by acid. Dentine can also be exposed if the gums recede. This can happen naturally but may also be caused by gum disease.
So what can I do about sensitive teeth?
The first thing to mention is that you should ask your dentist. You don’t have to be banging down their door at 6am at the first hint of sensitivity but it is worth mentioning it. Sometimes sensitivity will be a sign of something else going on. It could be the start of a cavity or it could be an indication of recession caused by gum disease. So it’s worth letting your dentist know.
What about a sensitive toothpaste?
Sensitive toothpastes can be great at relieving sensitivity. Use them like a normal toothpaste twice a day. Spit out the toothpaste but do not rinse with water. This leaves a little bit of toothpaste on the teeth so that the toothpaste keeps working.
You can also use sensitive toothpastes by rubbing them into sensitive areas and leaving them on there. I’m talking about teeth here. Don’t go rubbing toothpaste into grazes on your knee.
Different brands seem to work for different people. You may need to try a couple before you find the one that is best for you. But they really do work. If you’re having tooth sensitivity, they’re worth a try.
What if sensitive toothpaste doesn’t work?
Try sensitive toothpaste for a couple of weeks. If that hasn’t help, it would be a good idea to visit your dentist. As mentioned above, it may be that the sensitivity is being caused by something else that requires treatment.
Assuming that it is just sensitivity, there are a couple of treatments that your dentist may offer to you. Covering the sensitive area of tooth in a fluoride varnish can help to build up a protective layer on the tooth.
If you have sensitivity because a tooth is worn or damaged, it may require repair. Where enamel is lost, your dentist may be able to build up a false enamel layer that protects the tooth and insulates it against sensitivity.
How do I prevent sensitive teeth?
I have patients mention sensitive teeth every day. Most of the time, this has been caused by gum recession where the root surface has been exposed. This is often caused by brushing your gums too hard. The best way to prevent this is to switch to an electric toothbrush. An electric toothbrush will do the work for you. This prevents you scrubbing and pushing too hard. For more information on toothbrushes, read our article.
Sensitive teeth can be really unpleasant and can stop you eating some of the stuff you love. But there are ways that you, along with your dentist, can reduce sensitivity and make your mouth comfortable again.
What is the best toothbrush for sensitive teeth?
This is a question that a lot of patients ask. An electric toothbrush does the hard work for you. Electric toothbrushes are proven to give a better clean than manual brushes and they will stop you pushing too hard, minimising sensitivity. The two biggest brands in electric toothbrushes are Oral-B and Philips Sonicare. Oral-B electric toothbrushes rotate whereas Philips Sonicare toothbrushes clean by vibrating. For patients with sensitive teeth, I would recommend the Philips Sonicare as its action is far more gentle. The best value toothbrush in the range is the Philips Sonicare EasyClean. There’s a comparison table below for some of the different Philips Sonicare brushes. Alternately, if you have sensitive teeth and want to know more about these brushes, read our article.