Sensitive teeth is such a common complaint that I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to write an article on it. Your teeth can be sensitive to different things. Cold drinks, hot drinks, sweet things. It can even happen on a brisk December morning as you step outside and take a breath of cold air.
Having sensitive teeth can be horrible. It can really put you off certain foods and drinks. But there are ways to prevent it. In this article, we are going to discuss what causes sensitive teeth and how we can prevent it.
How does it feel?
Sensitive teeth normally feels like a short, sharp, electric shock. Some people will describe it as a pain. Others will describe it as just uncomfortable.
Sensitivity should only last a few seconds before going away.
The sensitive feeling only comes when something like a cold drink causes it. If you are getting discomfort or pain that starts on its own, this is not sensitivity. This is a toothache. For advice on toothache and the different causes of pain in your teeth, read our article.
Why do I get sensitive teeth?
Let’s start by thinking about what a tooth is made of. Most of a tooth is made of dentine. There is a nerve running through the middle of the tooth. The root of a tooth is held in place by gum and bone. The crown (or top) of a tooth is protected by a layer of hard enamel.
Now lets have a look at the dentine more closely. If we grab our microscopes, we can see loads of little holes in the surface of the dentine. These little holes are actually tubes that run all the way to the nerve of the tooth.
The nerves in our teeth have little arms that reach into these tubes in the dentine. The nerve gives the tooth feeling.
Normally this isn’t a problem. The enamel protects the top of the tooth and the gum protects the root. So your nerve is safely wrapped up within the tooth.
But what happens when a bit of the enamel chips away? What happens when the gum shrinks back? The protection over your nerve and dentine is gone.
This is when you get sensitivity. The dentine is exposed. When you have something very cold or hot, this hits the surface of the dentine and irritates the nerve underneath. You get a short, sharp, electric feeling which is your nerve saying ‘please don’t do that!’
Sensitive teeth can be unpleasant and annoying. So how are we going to get rid of it? Well, there are several options.
Sensitive toothpastes do actually seem to work. Each brand will claim to work in a slightly different way. Some claim to make the nerve less sensitive. Some companies say that their toothpaste builds up a protective layer on the dentine. This blocks the tubes that connect to the nerve.
In my experience, different people prefer different sensitive toothpastes. Try a couple and see which one works best for you.
They can be very effective at reducing sensitivity.
If there is a specific tooth that always feels sensitive, your dentist may paint on fluoride gel. Fluoride is the key ingredient in all toothpastes. It adds itself to the surface of your teeth, strengthening them.
In the back of a draw, most dentists will have a tube of super powerful, magic fluoride paste. Alright, it’s not magical but it is super stuff. It’s great at protecting areas where a small cavity is starting. It can also be really handy for hardening and protecting sensitive areas.
Sometimes dentine becomes exposed because part of the tooth has been lost or the surface of the tooth has been damaged.
If this has happened, it may be possible to repair the tooth. If the tooth can be rebuilt, you make the tooth complete. This protects the sensitive dentine and adds some strength back to the tooth.
Look at the photos below. This patient has suffered damage to the roots of their teeth because the gum has shrunk back. A false enamel layer was placed to protect the root surface, making the tooth whole again.
If you suffer with sensitive teeth, there are ways to stop it. Sensitive toothpaste is a good place to start. If the sensitive tooth paste hasn’t helped after a couple of weeks, ask your dentist.
Sensitive teeth can sometimes be the first sign that a cavity is forming. If tooth decay is causing sensitivity, this is likely to get worse.
If you have sensitivity, let your dentist know.