Tooth sensitivity and how to prevent it

Many of us have experienced that sharp zing through a tooth when eating an ice-cream and try to avoid anything cold in the mouth. So what causes tooth sensitivity? This is usually due to exposed dentine (inner layer of the tooth). Dentine is made out of numerous tubules, and once exposed they allow cold air and water to travel through to the nerve, causing the sensitivity. Dentine can be exposed due to:

  1. Worn enamel at the gum level. This in turn is caused by
    1. Overbrushing (abrasion) – if you use a hard brush and scrub too hard you will wear down the protective enamel. This can be especially severe if combined with an abrasive (gritty) toothpaste, such as charcoal-infused or whitening pastes.
    2. Grinding and clenching teeth (abfraction) – this puts a lot of pressure on the tooth, causing it to buckle under the stress. This is turn puts pressure on the area near the gum, causing the tooth enamel to ‘flake off’ and wear down
    3. Acidic substances (erosion) – sports drinks, soft drinks, and juices are all extremely acidic, slowly dissolving away the enamel as they pool around the gum level. Acid in the mouth may also be high due to bulimia and acid reflux disease
  2. Decay – cavities in teeth mean the protective outer enamel layer is broken down, thus once again exposing the inner sensitive dentine
  3. Dry mouth – saliva helps to lubricate the mouth, seal up those enamel and dentine tubules in the teeth and wash away harmful substances, sugar and plaque. People with poor saliva flow will be more exposed to sensitivity due to increased cavities risk and ‘dry’, exposed teeth.
  4. Excessive tooth whitening – this dries up the teeth, once again allowing cold water and air to travel more readily through open tubules through to the nerve of the tooth
  5. Gum disease – as gum comes away from the tooth it allows cold water/air to travel deeper towards unprotected tooth root, causing more cold sensitivity

Preventing  sensitivity

  1. Use a soft toothbrush, don’t press on it hard and use circular motion rather than scrubbing back and forth
  2. Treat clenching and grinding – talk to your dentist, consider relaxation techniques and a night splint to take the pressure of the teeth as you grind
  3. Avoid acidic substances, especially between meals when they do the most damage.
  4. Stick to a healthy diet with minimum sweets and processed food. Fill up on dairy, fresh food and plenty of fluoridated water
  5. Ensure good saliva flow, talk to your doctor if it’s caused by specific conditions of medication (mouth lubricants, sprays and mouthwashes are available at pharmacies), drink plenty of water.
  6. If whitening follow your dentist’s instructions in terms of frequency and length of whitening procedure

Treating sensitivity

See your dentist to diagnose the problem – you may have a cavity requiring a filling, a sealant to cover an exposed root surface, gum disease treatment or a simple use of sensitive toothpaste such as Sensodyne. Contact our EDG team to find out how we can help!