If you’ve swallowed some hot coffee or cringed over cold ice cream, you probably have tooth sensitivity. It feels bad, but is it also bad for your teeth? It depends.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
There’s no single reason for tooth sensitivity, which can have many causes:
Gum disease: Also called periodontal disease, some people experience tooth sensitivity when their gums and the bone underneath are infected. The infection can damage the gum tissue, exposing the tooth’s root surfaces, making it sensitive. The good news is that by using proper oral hygiene and seeing a dentist, periodontal disease can be treated.
Braces: If you have braces or use Invisalign to straighten your teeth, you might get occasional tooth sensitivity. Why? When teeth move, the body releases certain chemicals, which can cause short-term sensitivity. Since this is likely only for a couple of days, taking ibuprofen and changing your diet to foods that don’t cause activate the pain will do the trick.
Brushing: It’s possible you’re brushing too hard or with a toothbrush whose bristles are too stiff. Using a toothbrush too vigorously on your teeth can wear down the enamel. What’s left underneath is the dentin layer, with small tubes that allow access to your tooth’s nerve endings. An easy solution is to switch to a softer brush and taking it easy with the brush strokes.
It’s important to use toothpaste with fluoride, as this helps to protect the teeth from decay, which also can lead to increased sensitivity. Fluoride strengthens the tooth enamel, which keeps the tooth exterior healthier and stronger.
Grinding your teeth: Whether you know it or not, tooth grinding can occur when you’re sleeping and when you’re awake. Again, by wearing down your enamel and exposing the dentin, your teeth become more sensitive. If you can’t stop the grinding, sleep with a mouth guard.
Broken tooth: If you have a damaged tooth, like it’s cracked or chipped, you’ll probably notice sensitivity. A trip to the dentist will tell you how that can be remedied. It might be as easy as placing a cap on the tooth, or it might be more complicated, like a root canal or extraction. Either way, don’t delay in getting care.
Teeth whitening: While teeth whitening toothpastes, mouthwashes and treatments can make your teeth gleam, they can also cause sensitivity. Some people are sensitive to the chemicals used in these products. If that’s the case for you, try switching products.
No matter what’s causing your sensitivity, there’s no reason not to practice good oral hygiene. This is a fancy way of telling you to brush and floss your teeth properly, and stick to a regular schedule of cleanings and checkups.