So, you have sensitive teeth?
You are not alone! A recent study has shown that, on average, one in eight people have sensitive teeth, at least in the States. This sensitivity was most prevalent in young adults, women, people with receding gums (usually due to gum disease) and individuals who do at-home teeth whitening.
Sensitive teeth are, of course, an unwanted phenomena. They are preventers of good food, halters of tasty desert, and deniers of coffee or tea. They can be a bane to a foodie’s existence (as I am sure they would be to me.) In essence, they can alter your day-to-day eating habits. Some food that you really like, you may avoid due to your sensitive teeth. Or, as mentioned above, they could get so sensitive that you even forgo your morning coffee (that would be a nightmare!) Sugar, acidic food and drinks, and hot and cold can all trigger the sensitivity you experience in your teeth. This, I imagine, is unwanted as who would only want to eat lukewarm turkey and stuffing on, say, Thanksgiving? Nobody. That’s who.
So, what causes sensitive teeth? How can you battle this phenomena? I’ll go over this in the rest of the article.
Why are your teeth sensitive?
Not surprisingly, a lot of study has gone into this matter. What it boils down to, however, is pretty simple. Tooth sensitivity is actually caused by the gradual exposure of the second layer of the teeth, the dentin, which is much softer than the outer layer of your tooth, the hardest tissue in the body: enamel. Throughout the dentin in your teeth, there are tiny channels which contain nerve endings and fluid. When you eat the aforementioned food and drink types, the fluid inside these channels in your dentin move, and this movement actually prompts the sensitivity due to the reaction it has on the nerve endings in those same channels. This is essentially why one would get sensitive teeth.
Now, I mentioned in the previous paragraph that sensitive teeth are caused mostly due to the exposure of the second layer of the teeth, the dentin. The dentin can become exposed for several reasons, which I will go into now:
- Brushing your teeth too hard: Brushing your teeth too hard and for an excessive amount of time will gradually wear down the enamel of your teeth, exposing the dentin, especially if you are using a large amount of abrasive toothpaste and/or a hard-bristled toothbrush. Brushing too hard along the gum line can also cause the gum line itself to recede, due to wear, and expose more of the dentin.
- Gum Disease: Gum Disease and Gingivitis (the early stage of Gum Disease) are also prime suspects in gum recession. This is due to infection as opposed to wear from brushing. Bacteria in the mouth cause the infection in your gums. The body’s reaction to this is to have the gums (and bone) move away from what it thinks is the source of the infection (your teeth), and will continue to do so until the tooth is successfully ejected. Your teeth are obviously not sources of infection by themselves, but because the bacteria stick to the surfaces of your teeth, your body will do what it must to remove your teeth in order to remove the bacteria. This occurs over a long period of time and is one of the main reasons why dentists always insist that you come in for your regular checkup and cleaning, and also why they insist on you flossing. The dentist removes the hard buildup (dental calculus) which is made up of bacteria, food particles, saliva, and the waste created by the bacteria eating these food particles (the waste is acidic), which cannot be removed with regular means (like brushing).
- Teeth grinding: When you grind your teeth you are actively wearing down the enamel on the chewing surfaces of your teeth. This will, in time, expose the dentin as well and, remember, sensitive teeth have a tendency of occurring because of exposed dentin. Also when you clench your teeth you could wind up causing the enamel at the base of your teeth to chip off because of the force. This will also expose the dentin, but instead of the chewing surface, it will be at the base of your teeth.
What should you do?
Well, there is toothpaste out there designed to reduce sensitivity in your teeth. But that would be focusing on the symptom rather than the cause. If you are grinding your teeth, you should get to your dentist to have a custom night guard made for you. If indeed Gum Disease is the culprit, you may need to get deep cleanings, whereby they remove the hardened dental calculus from below the gum line, and in some cases the dentist may suggest gum or bone grafting if it is needed. In the case of you brushing too hard, be sure to get only soft bristled brushes, use only a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and brush in light circles around the teeth. Don’t brush for longer than 2 minutes and for only 30 seconds on each part of your mouth (i.e. top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right.) Seeing your dentist is obviously the first step. He will help you determine the cause, and work out a solution to your sensitive teeth. You should be able to eat the foods you want, not avoid them because of sensitivity. Seeing your dentist is a good way to start that process. So, please do!
Stay healthy my friends.
Here are a couple of great references on the subject: