What's causing your sensitive teeth

Most of us will experience tooth sensitivity at some point in our lives. Whether it’s the occasional twinge from biting into ice cream, or teeth so sensitive that it can hurt to breathe in cold air.

Our teeth become sensitive when the enamel (the tooth’s protective layer) becomes damaged. This reveals the underlying dentine, which contains small tubules that lead directly to the nerves in your teeth. There are a number of reasons why enamel can become damaged:

Vigorous brushing

While it’s important to brush your teeth thoroughly, harder is not better. If you scrub away at your teeth, particularly just after eating while your enamel is soft, you run the risk of gradually wearing it away. Your enamel is slightly thinner towards the gum line, so this is often the area where you’ll first feel the impact of overenthusiastic brushing.

Acid erosion

Sugar and acids in your diet can over time wear away tooth enamel through a process known as demineralisation. While your body has its own natural defence against this process – saliva – if you are frequently eating high quantities of sugary and acidic foods, permanent damage can occur. You can find some tips for preventing acid erosion in our previous blog article.

Gum recession

Some gum recession is expected as we age, but it can also happen because of gum disease, aggressive brushing (see above!) and poor oral hygiene. As the gum recedes it exposes the roots of your teeth to the elements, causing pain and sensitivity. To help prevent the risk of premature recession, it’s important to brush and floss thoroughly and see your dentist for regular check-ups.

Teeth grinding

Tooth enamel is very strong, but continually grinding your teeth can eventually wear it down, exposing sensitive nerves. We often grind our teeth subconsciously or while sleeping, so trying to stop can take some effort. Lifestyle changes can help, or your dentist can provide you with a custom-made mouthguard to wear at night.

Treating sensitive teeth

We’ve already talked about some of the ways to prevent sensitive teeth, but once you have them, what’s the best way to treat them?

Most cases can be treated using a toothpaste that’s been specially designed to help sensitive teeth. These work by blocking the tubules that lead to your nerves. You should notice a difference within a few days, but for faster results, you can try rubbing the toothpaste directly on any affected areas.

If this doesn’t help, you may need a stronger, prescription-strength toothpaste or treatment with a fluoride varnish. It’s also important to treat the underlying cause where possible, whether that’s poor oral hygiene, decayed or damaged teeth.

Severe cases may need to be referred to an endodontist, who will make sure there are no problems with the pulp or nerves inside your teeth.

For more advice on treating sensitive teeth, book a dental health check with one of our friendly dentists.