Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment

Woman with sensitive teeth eating popsicleDuring the hot summer, nothing feels better than a big glass of ice water after a morning jog. And who doesn’t enjoy a delightful frozen treat after a day of swimming in the lake? Imagine, however, that the first sip of that cold water or the first bite of that ice cream causes a sharp, sudden pain in one of your teeth. It hits so suddenly and forcefully that your entire head seems to throb. How did something wonderful turn so bad in such a short time?

If this has happened to you, it probably means you have sensitive teeth. This sensitivity may result from a number of dental issues, and the pain can come from cold or hot food and drinks, as well as from acidic or sticky ones. Luckily, Dr. Richard Hada can recommend several options for the treatment of sensitive teeth.

To learn more about what causes sensitive teeth and how to treat them, call our Mission Viejo, CA, dental office today at (949) 951-1067 and schedule an appointment with Dr. Hada.

Why Teeth Become Sensitive

Your teeth have protective layers covering their roots and crowns. A layer called the enamel protects the crown of each tooth. We call the layer protecting the roots of the teeth, under the gum line, the cementum. Beneath these layers, lies the dentin.

The dentin layer has less density than the enamel and cementum. It contains microscopic hollow tubes, called tubules. When the dentin loses its protective layers, the tubules allow heat and cold to stimulate the nerves inside the tooth. This can lead to extreme discomfort when drinking hot or cold beverages, chewing sticky foods, or even breathing through the mouth.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Tooth sensitivity can result from one of several dental issues. The way you brush your teeth, your age, the foods you eat, and habitual behaviors can all contribute. Some of the most common causes for sensitivity include:

  • Dental Erosion – Caused by acids in the food and drinks we consume, the erosion of the enamel layer leaves the dentin layer exposed, making it susceptible to temperature changes.
  • Cracked Teeth – Cracked or broken teeth allow temperature changes, as well as sticky foods to cause sensitivity. Sensitivity with a cracked tooth often occurs when chewing.
  • Bruxism – Grinding your teeth over a period of time will eventually wear down the enamel on your teeth, leaving the dentin layer open to outside influences.
  • Aggressive Brushing – Brushing your teeth with too much force, or using a brush with hard bristles, can injure your gums, exposing the tooth roots and causing sensitivity.
  • Gum Disease – Periodontal disease can progress to the point that the bone and tissue surrounding your teeth are destroyed, leaving the roots vulnerable.
  • Whitening Treatments – Many patients experience sensitivity in their teeth following a whitening treatment, due to acidic hydrogen ions in the whitening gel.

Treating Sensitive Teeth

Dr. Hada has several methods available for fighting tooth sensitivity. The method he uses will depend on the cause of your problem. The doctor typically starts with the most conservative treatment available for dental problems, so he may begin by recommending an ADA recommended desensitizing toothpaste. These toothpastes contain certain compounds that block the sensation of hot and cold from traveling to the nerves in the tooth. They may require several applications before you notice a difference.

Should this treatment fail, the doctor can turn to several in-office treatments. If he determines that tooth decay has led to the erosion of your enamel, he can place a filling to prevent further erosion and protect the dentin. Dr. Hada can repair chipped, cracked, or broken teeth with crowns, inlays, or dental bonding.

Dr. Hada may also try fluoride treatments to reduce sensitivity. This may come in the form of a fluoride varnish, or a gel. The doctor paints the varnish on your teeth in our office over the course of several appointments, one to two weeks apart. This allows him to build up layers of protection. He applies the gel by placing it in a mouth tray and having the patient wear the tray for several minutes.

If Dr. Hada finds that your sensitivity results from the recession of your gums, due to age or periodontal disease, he can perform a gum tissue graft. He will take tissue from another area of your mouth, grafting it to the gums to protect the tooth roots.

Finally, if no other options seem to work, the doctor will take x-rays to determine if a root canal is necessary. He performs a root canal when a tooth becomes infected all the way to the soft inner pulp. During the procedure, the doctor removes the pulp, along with the nerve endings, from the tooth, eliminating the pain.

Preventing Sensitivity

You can take steps to ensure that you do not suffer from sensitive teeth. When you brush your teeth, use a brush with soft bristles, and a toothpaste with low abrasiveness. Brush in a circular motion, rather than up and down or side to side, and do not exert too much pressure. Make sure you brush at least twice a day, and replace your brush every two or three months.

When possible, avoid sticky or acidic foods and beverages. If you do consume them, do it with a meal. When you eat a meal, your saliva will flow, helping to wash away acidic and sugary substances. Wait at least 30 minutes after a meal before brushing your teeth, as acidic substances can weaken the enamel of the teeth. Leading to damage when you brush.

Call Us Today

To learn more about sensitive teeth, or schedule an appointment with Dr. Hada, call our Mission Viejo, CA, dental office today at (949) 951-1067.