Maybe you recently drank something hot or cold and noticed that your teeth hurt, or maybe you’ve been experiencing teeth sensitivity for quite some time now. Whether it occurs suddenly or is chronic, there are multiple factors that can cause tooth sensitivity.
What causes teeth sensitivity?
There are two main explanations for increased sensitivity at a dental level: enamel erosion and temporary sensitivity due to certain factors creating a more porous environment for your enamel.
Your teeth are made up of multiple layers. The first two layers are your enamel and dentin. Enamel is the outermost layer and protects the rest of your teeth. It is the hardest material in the human body but may erode with improper care or become overly porous, exposing dentin. Enamel can’t be regrown or repaired but can be maintained.
Dentin is the sensitive layer of your teeth that protects your pulp and serves as a cushion. Made up of microscopic tubes, it is also the layer of your teeth that lets you know when something is too hot or cold. So when you eat ice cream and it hurts your teeth, it’s your dentin speaking.
You’re brushing your teeth too hard.
Over whitening your teeth
Periodontal disease (gum disease)
Cavities, tooth decay, broken/chipped teeth
Teeth grinding (bruxism)
Regularly eating or drinking acidic foods
Acid reflux (GERD)
Eating disorders (Bulimia)
Recent dental procedures
Regular use of certain medications
12 Reasons for teeth sensitivity
1. You’re brushing your teeth too hard
Brushing your teeth too hard or using a hard toothbrush can wear down your enamel over time and even cause gum recession. Without a healthy layer of enamel and your gums to protect the dentin and nerves of your teeth, you may experience sensitivity.
💡 How to brush your teeth: Using a soft-bristled toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, gently brush your teeth and gums in a back-and-forth or circular motion, sweeping the toothbrush over your teeth to remove particles and bacteria.
2. Over whitening your teeth
While most teeth whitening options are safe, even the very best in-office bleaching treatment may result in temporary or persistent teeth sensitivity. With most whitening treatments, you will experience a temporary sensitivity due to the microscopic pores in your enamel opening up to let the whitening treatment reach the dentin (where teeth are stained). The pores will close, but avoiding any hot or cold beverages or foods is best until it subsides.
Whitening your teeth too much using at-home whitening treatments may cause prolonged sensitivity, so it is always recommended to follow directions and consult with your dentist before using any teeth whitening methods.
💡 BEWARE: Certain whitening toothpaste contain abrasive substances to “scrub” the stains away. This can result in weakened enamel over time leading to sensitivity.
3. Periodontal Disease (Gum Disease)
Receding gums caused by periodontal disease cause a weakening in the cementum, the hard adhesive layer that attaches your gums to your teeth. Beneath the cementum is the dentin, which, if exposed, causes teeth sensitivity.
4. Cavities, Tooth Decay, Broken/Chipped Teeth
In the early stages of a cavity, you may only feel sensitivity when eating acidic, hot, or cold foods. But over time, bacteria eat away at your enamel, exposing the nerves of your dentin, and can even travel into the pulp, leading to tooth decay and causing tooth sensitivity and pain.
Broken teeth and chipped teeth may cause exposure to your dentin or even pulp, causing pain and sensitivity.
5. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
Whether you grind your teeth in your sleep or daily, your enamel will slowly wear down, exposing your dentin. Consult with your dentist about potentially wearing a mouth guard to protect against further damage.
6. Regularly eating or drinking acidic foods
Over time, excess consumption of acidic foods without proper oral care can damage your enamel and weaken your gum line, exposing your dentin to an acidic environment. Foods like pickles, tomatoes, citrus, yogurt, and beans are acidic. Enjoying these foods in moderation and brushing your teeth properly should help prevent further damage.
💡TIP: Try using a straw when drinking acidic liquids such as coffee, wine, and carbonated sodas to avoid contact with teeth.
7. Acid Reflux (GERD)
The acid buildup caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly known as “acid reflux,” can erode your enamel over time. Speaking to your doctor about ways to ease your acid reflux may help prevent any erosion that leads to teeth sensitivity.
8. Eating Disorders (Bulimia)
Self-induced vomiting over time will consistently expose your teeth to acid, damaging your enamel. Dry mouth associated with this also creates a breeding environment for bacteria, leading to further dental problems and damage. While a dentist should examine this, it is just one of the health risks of bulimia.
If you’re concerned you may be struggling with an eating disorder, contact a local provider or contact the National Eating Disorder Association’s helpline via call/text at (800) 931-2237 for further resources.
9. Loose Fillings
A loose filling may result in tooth sensitivity if you have fillings in your teeth. Without the filling to protect the inner layers of your tooth, bacteria, acids, hot/cold temperatures, and pressure are directly exposed. Contact your dentist as soon as possible if your sensitivity is coming from a tooth where you’ve had a filling.
10. Recent dental procedures
Dental cleanings, root canals, crown placement, tooth restoration, and other dental procedures can lead to temporary tooth sensitivity. Your dentist or dental professional will advise you on how long to expect this discomfort- usually ranging from a few days to several weeks. If you experience prolonged sensitivity, reach out to your provider.
11. Acidic mouthwash
Certain mouthwashes contain acidic ingredients that can harm weakened enamel or even deteriorate enamel over time, exposing your dentin and furthering the damage.
💡TIP: Talk to your dentist about non-acidic, safe mouthwashes to avoid harming your enamel and dentin. If you discover that your current mouthwash is causing teeth sensitivity, it is best to stop usage.
12. Regular use of certain medications
Medications such as aspirin, inhalers, antihistamines, antibiotics, and sugar-based medications, among many more, can result in tooth damage over time. Consult with your dentist if you believe a medication may be causing your teeth sensitivity.
Your enamel is the shelter for your teeth, at the frontline, protecting them from harsh environments like acids and bacteria. While there are many reasons for teeth sensitivity, it is essential to contact a dentist if it is recurring. Enamel erosion is irreversible and should be taken seriously and treated by a professional to maintain oral health and preserve teeth.
If you are in the Northeast PA, Scranton area and are experiencing teeth sensitivity, Dr. Charles Dennis & his team at Abington Center for Cosmetic and Family Dentistry can help you diagnose the root of the problem. Call the office today at (570) 514-5570.
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