Your tooth is not just one hard material but actually has several layers. The outer layer is the hardest and is the ‘enamel’, and underneath that is a slightly porous, often yellowish hard layer called the ‘dentin’. When your enamel becomes worn away from shrinking gums, over brushing, too many acids, damage, or for whatever reason, the dentine becomes exposed and you start experiencing sensitivity.
What happens is anything that ‘stimulates’ the tooth, such as hot, cold, sweets, biting, etc – can travel down the thousands of tiny tubes of the dentine down to the nerve center of the tooth.
Some Causes for Sensitive Teeth
- Brushing too hard or with ‘hard’ toothbrushes can wear away the ‘enamel’ and expose the dentine causing sensitivity. It can also rub away gums, forcing them to recede and expose dentine under your gumline.
- Receding gums can happen from gum diseases. This can expose the root surface and dentine under your gumline.
- Cracked teeth can break the protection provided by the enamel and expose the dentine to sensitivity causing stimulants. It can also lead to infection and much worse problems.
- Teeth grinding or clenching can wear down enamel & expose underlying dentine. It also can make your entire jaw or muscles feel fatigued and sore too.
- Tooth whitening products can contribute to sensitivity too by creating a more porous enamel which allows stimulants through to touch the dentine.
- Plaque build-up. The presence of plaque releases acids which can cause eat away at enamel and cause cavities and sensitivity.
- Long-term use of Mouthwashes can lead to sensitivity. Some cheaper washes have acids which damage enamel. Fluoride mouthrinses are a recommended alternative.
- Acidic foods (and drinks). Foods with high acid contents can damage enamel too. Examples include things like citrus, fruit, soft drinks, tomatoes, pickles, tea, lemons.
- Dentists! A regular dental checkup and some procedures can admittedly lead to post-op sensitivity. Especially with tooth cleaning or crown placement procedures. As the tooth is prepared – enamel is cleaned and exposed which leads to stimulants contacting the dentine. Sensitivity is normal and temporary and usually disappears in under 4-6 weeks.
What Can I Do to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity?
Some steps you can take to prevent tooth sensitivity include:
- Maintain good oral health. Continue to follow proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
- Use a soft bristled toothbrush. This will result in less toothbrush abrasion to the tooth surface and less irritation to your gums.
- Sensitivity toothpastes. There are several brands of toothpaste available for people with sensitive teeth. With regular use you should notice a decrease in sensitivity. You may need to try several different brands to find the product that works best for you. Another tip. spread a thin layer of the toothpaste on the exposed tooth roots with your finger or a cotton tip before you go to bed.
- Avoid tartar control toothpastes or non-fluoridated toothpastes. These can contain small abrasive granules which are designed to remove hardened plaque but also damage teeth enamel.
- Reduce acidic food and drinks. As soon as an acidic substance such as a soft drink comes into contact with your tooth it begins softening the enamel. Continued consumption can lead to exposed dentine and significant loss of enamel.
- Fluoridated dental products. Fluoride repairs enamel which is damaged and can reseal exposed dentine. Using a fluoridated mouthrinse and toothpastes helps reduce sensitivity.
- Try to minimise grinding or clenching your teeth. This wears away enamel on your biting surfaces so if you notice yourself doing it try to stop and ask your dentist for a teeth protector.
- Regular dental visits. By having a professional clean and tailored advice to your own hygiene techniques it helps maintain any conditions that may be present and stop them before they become worse. Like car maintenance – if done regularly you stop an expensive blowout down the track. Dentists can also perform several procedures which will help with sensitivity.