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Silver Line Smiles of Tyson's Corner
8201 Greensboro Dr, Ste 710, McLean, VA 22102

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Understanding Sensitive Teeth

Have you ever felt a sharp pain or any discomfort after taking a bite of ice cream or eating a bowl of soup? If so, you’re probably one of the millions of people who suffer from sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity can be a temporary or chronic problem, and it can affect one or more teeth. People with sensitive teeth frequently experience discomfort or pain when exposed to certain triggers, such as hot or cold food and drinks. Other triggers of sensitive teeth include acidic foods and drinks, sweet foods and beverages, alcohol-based mouthwash, and even cold air. Your symptoms can range from mild to intense depending on the severity of your tooth sensitivity. Fortunately, by making a few changes in your dental care routine and visiting your dentist, it’s possible to reduce or even eliminate pain caused by sensitive teeth.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

If you have healthy teeth, there is a strong layer of enamel that acts as a protective layer for the visible part of your teeth above the gum line. A layer called cementum is found below the gum line, and it protects the roots of teeth. Dentin is the layer found underneath the enamel and cementum. Dentin contains small tubes or canals that lead to the tooth’s pulp, and it’s much softer in comparison to enamel and cementum.

If tooth enamel starts to wear away, dentin loses its protective covering, which allows hot, cold, or acidic foods and beverages to reach the cells and nerves that are found inside of your teeth. When this occurs, it triggers a pain response and results in hypersensitivity.

There are several underlying dental problems that can cause tooth enamel to wear away, exposing the sensitive dentin and tooth roots underneath. These are the most common reasons why you might experience sensitive teeth:

  1. Diet: If your diet is high in foods and drinks that are acidic, including tomatoes, citrus fruits, tea, and coffee, you’re at a higher risk of enamel erosion. This greatly increases your chances of developing sensitive teeth.
  2. Using alcohol-based mouthwash: Rinsing with a mouthwash that contains alcohol or other harsh ingredients can cause tooth sensitivity and can worsen tooth sensitivity if you already have enamel erosion.
  3. Whitening toothpaste: Many whitening toothpastes and tooth whitening products contain baking soda or peroxide, which are two products that can contribute to sensitive teeth.
  4. Brushing your teeth too hard: Using a hard-bristled toothbrush or brushing too hard can cause enamel to wear away over time, causing the dentin to be exposed. This leads to hypersensitivity when consuming anything hot, cold, or acidic.
  5. Receding gums: Gum disease causes the gum tissue to move away from teeth, which exposes the tooth roots. When this happens, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of sensitivity.
  6. Teeth grinding: Grinding your teeth at night can wear down your tooth enamel over time, exposing the sensitive dentin layer underneath.
  7. Recent dental work: It’s common for people to develop tooth sensitivity after a dental procedure, such as crown placement, root planing, tooth restoration, or even a routine dental cleaning. This type of sensitivity is only temporary, but you should contact your dentist if sensitivity persists.
  8. Cracked or chipped teeth: A crack or fracture in a tooth makes it easier for irritating substances to reach the nerves inside of the tooth, causing pain. This also allows bacteria to enter the tooth, creating an inflammatory response that causes pain and sensitivity.
  9. Tooth decay: In many cases, sensitive teeth are an early sign of tooth decay. Cavities create holes in teeth that expose the sensitive nerves, prompting pain when drinking or eating anything hot, cold, or acidic.

Tooth sensitivity is a problem that you shouldn’t ignore. It’s important to schedule an appointment with your dentist if you’re developing tooth sensitivity.

What Treatments Are Available for Sensitive Teeth?

Since sensitive teeth can indicate an underlying dental problem, seeing a dentist in McLean who can diagnose the issue should be your first step. Treatment for sensitive teeth depends on the underlying cause, and there are many treatments available.

Your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste to protect the surface of your teeth. After several applications, it’s possible to greatly reduce tooth sensitivity. Fluoride gel treatment is another option that can strengthen your tooth enamel. Your dentist may also choose to apply a dental sealant to the affected teeth, which blocks irritating substances from reaching the tooth’s nerve.

If you have gum disease and have sensitivity caused by receding gums, your dentist may perform a gum graft to cover the root and protect the nerve from irritants. Wearing a mouthguard at night can protect your teeth from the risk of fracture and enamel erosion caused by grinding your teeth. If you’re still experiencing tooth sensitivity after pursuing treatment, your dentist may perform a root canal to remove inflamed or infected dental pulp.

Can You Prevent Sensitive Teeth?

Preventing sensitive teeth begins with a good oral health routine. Floss daily and brush your teeth at least twice a day to promote healthy teeth and gums. See your dentist twice a year for professional cleaning and exams. These tips can also help you prevent sensitive teeth:

  • Don’t brush your teeth too hard: Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and use small, circular motions to gently clean your teeth and gums.
  • Limit your consumption of acidic and sugary foods and drinks: This includes soda, coffee, wine, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.
  • Rinse your mouth with water to neutralize acids after eating and drinking.
  • Wait at least an hour to brush your teeth after eating or drinking anything acidic.
  • Talk to your dentist before using whitening toothpaste or any tooth whitening products.

Sensitive teeth can cause a lot of pain, but it’s possible to reduce or even eliminate discomfort caused by tooth sensitivity. Talk to your dentist about the treatment options available to you, and the steps you can take at home to reduce tooth sensitivity.

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