Tooth Sensitivity and the Causes

Do you have teeth that are sensitive to hot or cold? Do you experience any pain or discomfort when you are flossing or brushing your teeth? This could be completely normal or it could be the sign of a more sinister oral problem. So how do you know the difference?

Some people do suffer from having more sensitive teeth than others, although if common daily occurrences such as eating, drinking or taking care of your teeth are becoming affected then it may be time to visit your dentist.

Your dentist can assess your teeth and can give you peace of mind that your tooth sensitivity isn’t a sign of a dental problem that may require treatment. Also, if your tooth sensitivity is just that, then your dentist will be able to assist you in finding treatments and making lifestyle changes that can help lessen the symptoms of sensitivity.

What can trigger tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity can be triggered by a variety of things including, however not limited too:

  • Using mouthwash,
  • Brushing or flossing your teeth,
  • Eating or drinking things that are hot or cold; or
  • Breathing in cold air.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity can caused by a number of different factors and in some cases by several factors working together. Causes of tooth sensitivity can include, but however are not limited to the following:

  • Tooth surface loss
    Tooth surface loss occurs when the enamel of the tooth is removed. What is enamel? Enamel is the hard outer layer of the tooth and its job is to protect the rest of the tooth from damage. When the enamel of a tooth is removed it leaves the inner more sensitive parts of the tooth vulnerable, meaning that they begin to feel things that they shouldn’t and so begin to become sensitive.
    The enamel of the tooth can be lost due to a number of different reasons however the most common cause of tooth surface loss is acid damage to the teeth. Acid is in a lot of foods or drinks that we consume including, lemon, lime, vinegar, soft drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks. Acid can also end up in the mouth due to acid reflux and indigestion, it is important to remember that acid problems can also not have any symptoms and so can be a deadly killer of enamel.
  • Untreated cavities
    A cavity is a permanent hole that is made in a tooth. This occurs where tooth decay has occurred which has been left untreated. When left untreated the hole in the tooth will continue to grow in size. Cavities in teeth can cause sensitivity along with a variety of other symptoms.
  • A crack or cracks in a tooth
    Cracks in teeth are common and in some cases depending on the direction, shape and width of the crack can remain symptomless. However, in some cases cracks in teeth can cause a variety of symptoms, one of which being sensitivity.
  • Exposure of the root of the tooth caused by gum disease or recession
    The part of the tooth that most people see above their gum is called the crown; the part below the gums attached to the crown of the tooth is called the roots. The roots of the tooth belong under the gums, however in some situations a patient may suffer from recession of the gums. This recession can be caused by a variety of factors such as gum disease, brushing too hard or other issues. This recession causes the roots of the teeth to become slightly exposed, these roots then not being used to or designed for being exposed to factors such as brushing or drinking cold water respond with the pain you feel when you experience sensitivity.
  • Dental work that has become damaged
    Most dental work such as fillings, crowns, bridges, veneers and dentures do have a life span meaning that after an estimated time period they will need to be replaced. If such dental products are not changed when they are meant to they may begin to cause tooth sensitivity.
    Dental work can also become damaged for example, losing a filling, cracking a crown or veneer, or losing a dental bridge. Expired or damaged dental work can also lead to a variety of other issues and therfore should be examined by a dentist as soon as is possible.
  • Being too rough when performing oral hygiene
    Making sure that your teeth and gums are clean and healthy is very important and should be something that we give our time and attention too daily. However if oral hygiene procedures are not performed right they can be damaging to our teeth and gums. Two of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity in relation to oral hygiene is using a toothbrush with hard bristles, brushing your teeth too hard or using the wrong technique when brushing.  These things can assist in wearing down the enamel of the tooth as mentioned previously in the heading tooth surface loss and cause recession of the gums as mentioned in exposure of the roots.
  • Bruxism which involves the clenching and grinding of teeth
    Bruxism is the medical name for the grinding and clenching of teeth. Bruxism is extremely common with most people experiencing this at some stage throughout their lives. However in some rare situation bruxism can be severe and can cause sensitivity due to the trauma that this causes to the teeth.
  • Cosmetic dentistry
    Cosmetic dentistry such as veneers and tooth whitening can also cause tooth sensitivity. Tooth whitening whether it occurs in chair or at home can be expected to cause a degree of sensitivity. This is because the material used in the tooth whitening process is changing the colour of the enamel of the teeth and therefore removes minerals from the enamel causing this brief senstivity. Veneers can also cause tooth sensitivity, as they require a degree of the tooth surface to be removed so that the veneer can be placed on the surface of the tooth without looking bulky. This removal of the tooth’s enamel can cause the tooth to experience some sensitivity.
  • Naturally sensitive teeth
    Unfortunately sometimes the answer to tooth sensitivity is not definitive and there is no simple cause for the sensitivity, some people are unlucky enough that they do naturally suffer from more sensitive teeth.

Can tooth sensitivity be treated?

Whether tooth sensitivity can be treated depends on the cause of your tooth sensitivity. If you are concerned about your tooth sensitivity or having problems dealing with the symptoms, the best thing you can do is make an appointment to see your dentist. You should also do this is if you are newly begining to experience tooth sensitivity to assure that this is not a symptom of a larger dental problem. Your dentist will be able to help you find the cause of your sensitivity if one exists and can assist you in finding the right treatment for your situation.

What can you do at home to help lessen the symptoms of tooth sensitivity?

  • Use a soft toothbrush.
  • Brush your teeth softly but thoroughly, using a technique your dentist has advised.
  • Make sure that you floss daily.
  • Avoid exposing your teeth to foods and drinks with a high amount of acid such as soft drinks, lemon, lime, alcohol and vinegar over a prolonged period.
  • Make sure if you are suffering from symptoms of acid reflux that you talk to your GP.