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Do you remember that hot afternoon you dug into a bowl of beautifully cold ice cream, only to be met with a jolt of pain radiating through your teeth? That’s tooth sensitivity. This common yet often underestimated dental issue affects millions. While occasional twinges might seem harmless, they could contain a hidden message. Could smile’s sensitivity be a warning sign which needs your attention?

What is tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is when your teeth feel uncomfortable or painful, particularly when you eat or drink hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods and beverages. It happens because the outer protective layer of your tooth, called enamel, gets worn down or damaged, revealing the softer tissue underneath, called dentin. Dentin contains nerve endings, which makes it more sensitive to different triggers.

tooth sensitivity

Common causes of tooth sensitivity

Enamel erosion: The enamel can wear down over time due to the consumption of acidic foods and drinks, aggressive brushing or teeth grinding, which exposes the sensitive dentin underneath.

Gum recession: When the gums recede, the roots of the teeth become exposed. Since the roots do not have enamel, they are more susceptible to sensitivity.

Tooth decay: Cavities can lead to tooth sensitivity, especially when they progress and affect the inner layers of the tooth.

Tooth fractures or cracks: Damage to the tooth structure can expose the sensitive inner layers, causing sensitivity to hot, cold or pressure.

Teeth whitening treatments: Some whitening products can temporarily increase tooth sensitivity, although this usually resolves after treatment.

Dental procedures: Certain dental treatments such as fillings, crowns or professional cleanings may cause temporary sensitivity, which typically subsides after a short period.

Grinding or clenching: Habitual teeth grinding or clenching can wear down the enamel and lead to sensitivity.

Age: As people age, the enamel naturally wears down, making the teeth more prone to sensitivity.

Diet: Consuming acidic foods and beverages can erode enamel over time, leading to sensitivity.

Oral hygiene practices: Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and contribute to sensitivity.

Tooth sensitivity signs you shouldn’t ignore

Although it’s a common issue, it’s important not all tooth sensitivity is harmless. Your health may truly be at stake here. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

Sharp pain: If you experience sudden and severe pain when consuming hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods and drinks, it could be a sign of more serious dental problems. Intense, stabbing pain that persists beyond the initial stimulus may indicate issues such as tooth decay, nerve damage or infection.

Persistent discomfort: While mild sensitivity that resolves quickly is common, persistent discomfort that lingers for an extended period, even after using desensitising products, may indicate an underlying dental issue. If sensitivity continues despite efforts to alleviate it, it’s essential to seek professional dental advice.

Visible changes: Pay attention to any visible changes in your teeth, such as receding gums, cracks or chips. These changes can expose the sensitive inner layers of the tooth, leading to increased sensitivity. Additionally, visible signs of damage may indicate the presence of tooth decay or structural issues that require treatment.

Pain while biting or chewing: If you experience pain or discomfort when biting or chewing food, it could be a sign of a cracked tooth, loose filling or other dental problems. Painful chewing may indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed by a dentist to prevent further damage.

Impact on daily life: If tooth sensitivity begins to interfere with your daily activities, such as eating, drinking or oral hygiene practices, it’s time to seek professional dental care. Ignoring persistent sensitivity can lead to worsening symptoms and complications that may require more extensive treatment.

Ignoring these symptoms may worsen pain, exacerbate underlying issues and possibly result in tooth loss. Remember, your oral health significantly impacts your overall well-being and quality of life. Seeking help from a professional and addressing any concerns promptly can help maintain your oral health and prevent more serious dental issues in the future.

Tooth sensitivity treatment

Desensitising toothpaste: Regularly use toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth to reduce discomfort by blocking sensations from the tooth surface to the nerve.

Fluoride treatment: Your dentist may recommend fluoride gels or varnishes to strengthen enamel and decrease sensitivity.

Gum treatments: Gum grafting can cover exposed roots, reducing sensitivity.

Dental restorations: Dental fillings, veneers, inlays, onlays or crowns may be needed to address decay or cracks causing sensitivity.

Root canal therapy: In severe cases, removing damaged nerve tissue through root canal therapy can alleviate sensitivity.

Preventing tooth sensitivity

tooth sensitivity

Good oral hygiene: Consistent brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice daily and daily flossing are crucial. They help remove plaque and bacteria, preventing enamel erosion and gum disease, both of which can lead to tooth sensitivity.

Avoid acidic foods: Acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits, fizzy drinks and vinegar can weaken enamel over time. Limit their consumption and rinse your mouth with water afterwards to help protect enamel and reduce the risk of sensitivity.

Use a soft toothbrush: Brushing too vigorously or with a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and expose sensitive areas of the teeth. Opt for a soft-bristled toothbrush and use gentle, circular motions to clean teeth effectively without causing damage.

Regular dental check-ups: Visiting your dentist every six months allows for early detection of dental issues such as cavities, gum disease and enamel erosion. Your dentist can provide personalised advice and treatment to address any concerns and prevent tooth sensitivity.

Professional teeth whitening: While DIY whitening kits may seem convenient, they can be harsh and cause sensitivity or damage to the enamel. Professional teeth whitening treatments, performed or prescribed by dentists, utilise safe and effective methods to achieve optimal results without compromising oral health.

Don’t let your sensitive teeth limit your enjoyment!

This condition is more than a minor annoyance; it’s a signal to act. Don’t wait until the pain grows!

Take charge of your oral health, pay attention to what your teeth are telling you and reach out to your dentist early. A proactive stance against tooth sensitivity is always your safest bet. With the right care and attention, you can keep your smile bright, feel confident and savour the treats you love without any pain or discomfort.