Tooth sensitivity can be a jarring experience and can affect one or several teeth out of nowhere. It’s the most common when you eat or drink something hot, cold, sweet or sour, and even a quick spurt of cold air can set it off. The pain can be sharp and jab deep into the nerve endings of your teeth.
Here are the common reasons why sensitive teeth develop:
- Wear and tear. Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush or grinding your teeth can wear down enamel and expose the dentin, which is the soft layer of your teeth that makes up the inner part and the roots. When exposed, particles and fluids can reach the nerve of your tooth through tubes in the dentin.
- Tooth decay near the gum line.
- Gum disease. Inflamed and sore gums pull back and expose the roots of your teeth.
- Damage. Chipped or broken teeth may fill with bacteria. The bacteria can enter the pulp, causing inflammation.
- Teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth may wear down the enamel and expose the dentin.
- Tooth-whitening products. These products may be major contributors to sensitive teeth.
- Plaque buildup. The presence of plaque on the root surfaces can cause sensitivity.
- Long-term mouthwash use. Some over-the-counter products contain acids that can make sensitivity worse if your dentin is already exposed.
Steps to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity
The good news is there are many ways to control sensitive teeth. You can:
- Brush and floss regularly. Use proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.
- Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brush gently and carefully around the gum line so you don’t remove gum tissue.
- Use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. You may need to try several brands to find the product that works best for you. Another tip: Spread a thin layer on the exposed tooth roots with your finger or a Q-tip before you go to bed.
- Avoid lots of highly acidic foods and drinks.
- Use fluoridated dental products. Using a fluoridated mouth rinse daily can decrease sensitivity.
- If you grind your teeth, use a mouth guard at night. You may not even realize you’re grinding: Often people only do it while they’re sleeping, but unexplained jaw pain or headaches could be a clue.
- See your dentist every 6 months (or more often, depending on your condition).