Megan M. Stock, DMD
The Lowdown on Sensitive Teeth
Do you avoid ice in your drinks? Does the idea of biting into an ice cream cone send shivers down your spine? In my professional and personal life, I have noticed that most people at some point in their lives have experienced sensitivity. Some experience ongoing or chronic sensitivity, some have intermittent cold sensitivity, and others experience a one time "zing" for no apparent reason. So what exactly causes this sensitivity? The answer can be as varied as the symptoms themselves.
A majority of the time, sensitivity to cold, sweets, and (less frequently) heat, can be attributed to worn enamel or root exposure (which occurs when your gums recede). Excessive wear of the enamel (the hard protective outer layer of your teeth) and gum recession can occur if you brush your teeth with a medium or hard bristled toothbrush or if you apply too much pressure with your toothbrush. Instead of using a "scrubbing back and forth" motion, try brushing in small gentle circles, focusing on each surface of each tooth before moving on to the next tooth. Better yet, invest in a good rechargeable electric toothbrush! The technology allows you to get better plaque removal while being gentler on the gums and enamel.
Enamel can also wear if you have a clenching or grinding habit. If you suspect you may have such a habit, your dental professional can fabricate a custom protective guard for you to wear. These custom guards are far more effective and typically more comfortable than the boil-and-bite over the counter guards. Limiting your exposure to acidic drinks and foods, which soften the enamel, will also help to preserve that protective layer.
For worn enamel or exposed roots your dentist or hygienist may recommend conservative treatments such as fluoride treatments, desensitizing toothpastes or gels, or bondings. If the gum recession is significant enough, a specialist may need to perform a gum graft to cover the exposed areas. If too much enamel is worn, you may benefit from crowns or veneers.
Occasionally, sharp pains could indicate a cavity, worn or chipped filling, fracture of the tooth, damage to the tooth's nerve, or even gum disease. Appropriate treatment for your specific case will be recommended by your dental professional after he or she pinpoints the root cause (no pun intended) of your sensitivity.
Healthy habits, good oral hygiene practices, and routine dental examinations can often prevent sensitivity. But if you are suffering, don't wait! There is usually a simple solution to this very painful experience. You'll be back to eating that ice cream in no time!
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