What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Experiencing sensitive teeth is a common problem and it can inhibit us from eating and drinking. However, understanding what causes it can help you make educated changes to your oral care.

Your teeth can become sensitive when the dentine becomes exposed. Your tooth is made up of different layers and dentine is what lies beneath the enamel. Dentine contains thousands of microscopic channels which run from the surface of the tooth to the nerve at the centre. When these channels become exposed, hot, cold or acidic food and drink can enter these channels and directly aggravate the nerves.

Tooth abrasion and enamel decay, alongside gum recession are the common issues that lead to dentine exposure, but what causes these?

Your Diet is Too Acidic

Tooth enamel protects your teeth and eating a diet high in acidic foods can erode and damage this protective layer leading to exposed dentine and sensitive teeth.

Whilst acidic foods, when eaten in moderation, are part of a balanced diet, if you are experiencing sensitive teeth it may be best to avoid the following:

  • Anything pickled
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Cranberries, plums and prunes
  • Wine
  • Fizzy drinks
  • Tomato products
  • Processed foods
  • Foods high in sugar

There are also a number of foods that can help tackle oral issues.

You Are Brushing Too Hard

Many people assume that hard bristled toothbrushes are the best option to give your teeth a deep clean twice a day. However, vigorously brushing your teeth for longer than needed with a hard brush will do more bad than good.

Over-brushing and brushing too hard can strip away the enamel of your teeth and cause gum recession, both revealing dentine. Switching to a softer bristled toothbrush, brushing for two minutes twice a day, and using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth will help alleviate the problem.

You Have Gum Issues

It is best to visit your dentist to receive effective treatment. Regular hygienist visits and new oral hygiene practices will need to be adopted to help prevent future tooth problems.

You Grind Your Teeth

Bruxism is a habit that affects around 8-10% of the population(1) and is characterised by teeth grinding and jaw clenching. It is most prevalent in 25 to 44 year olds and is split into awake bruxism and sleep bruxism.

You may not even be aware that you are a bruxer, especially if it only occurs at night. The issue can be due to an irregular bite, stress or sleep issues. The deterioration of the teeth through grinding eventually reveals the dentine below the protective enamel, resulting in sensitive teeth.

How to treat bruxism depends on the specific causes in each individual and your dentist will be able to give you guidance and advice.

You Have a Chipped Tooth

If you can pinpoint the problem to just one tooth, you could have a chipped or fractured tooth. In these cases, sometimes the root of the tooth itself can be exposed.

The course of treatment will depend on how bad your chip or crack is, but you will definitely need to visit your dentist. In some severe cases root canal work might be needed, whereas moderate chips and cracks will need a filling or crown to help make the tooth strong again. If you are lucky you may just get by with a smooth and polish of the tooth.

You Have a Cavity

A sensitive tooth can be caused by a cavity. Cavities occur when sugars and starches settle on a tooth and turn to plaque. The plaque contains bacteria which attacks the tooth enamel, resulting in decay and a hole in your tooth. You will sometimes be able to feel a cavity with your tongue or see it when you look in a mirror.

The only way to stop a cavity causing you a problem is to book an appointment with your dentist for treatment.

You are Using Teeth Whitening Products

Over 100,000 people in the UK tried tooth whitening products last year(2). Many treatments, both available in shops and offered by dentists, contain peroxide-based bleaching agents. The issue lies with products that contain a high concentration of the bleaching agent. Whilst it will penetrate the tooth and remove stains, it can also expose the dentine of your teeth, resulting in tooth sensitivity.

Avoid using any teeth whitening products from highstreet stores, unless specifically recommended by your dentist. If you are considering whitening of any kind, it is best to consult your dentist so they can assess your overall oral health to see if you are suitable for teeth whitening treatments.

You’ve Recently Had Dental Work

Sometimes it is necessary for your dentist to carry out intrusive work on your teeth to make them as healthy as possible. Roots canals, crown fittings, and even some fillings can cause a problem once you have undergone treatment and left your dental surgery. Your dentist will usually advise you to avoid consuming certain things during your recovery period.

If you are still struggling with sensitive teeth a while after treatment you should always schedule a follow-up appointment with your dentist.

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