If you experience tooth discomfort from chewing, exposure to hot and cold, or even breathing through your mouth, you might be suffering from dentin hypersensitivity, otherwise known as "sensitive teeth."
Why So Sensitive?
Imagine your teeth having multiple layers like an onion. The ultra-hard outer shell is called the enamel. Beneath that is a layer of porous material called dentin that surrounds the inner nerve. Tooth enamel protects the dentin from temperature extremes and other irritants. Your gums do the same for the dentin inside the tooth roots.
Tooth sensitivity occurs when one of these protective barriers is compromised -- because of tooth decay or gum disease, for instance. When that happens, heat, cold or pressure can produce sudden, sharp pain. Other possible causes include:
Cracked or broken teeth
A damaged tooth filling
Teeth grinding, known as bruxism or clenching
Aggressive brushing of the teeth
Dental plaque build-up on the root surfaces
An Ounce of Prevention
The key to preventing tooth sensivity is to keep the gums from receding. Here are some simple steps you can take:
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush to minimize dental abrasion and irritation of your gums. Consider an electric toothbrush so all you need to do is move the brush, not worry about how well your teeth are being cleaned.
Be extra gentle when brushing around the gum line!
Go easy on highly acidic foods (such as citrus), as they can erode tooth enamel and lead to dentin exposure.
Use a night guard if you grind or clench your teeth at night.
Regular dental visits for a dental cleaning and fluoride treatments can also prevent damage to the protective layer of the dentin.
Depending on the cause, using a desensitizing toothpaste can sometimes solve the problem. If that doesn't work, your dentist can apply a fluoride gel or special desensitizing agents to the affected tooth. If the problem persists, a dental filling, dental crown, dental inlay or dental bonding may be necessary to repair tooth decay or correct some other problem that may be causing the sensitivity.