A large proportion of patients across the UK (and Worldwide) suffer from tooth sensitivity. There are varying degrees of sensitivity, with some people experiencing sharp, painful surges and others only mild discomfort, whether it’s through hot and cold beverages or harder formed food.
The good news is that tooth sensitivity can be treated. Pain shooting through to the tooth nerve can be painful and limit your ability to eat and drink but long term treatment is possible, depending on the cause and how severe it is.
Causes of tooth sensitivity
Some people naturally have sensitive teeth, others suffer later in life due to deterioration or existing tooth problems. Some of these include:
- Tooth decay
- Receding Gums
- Brushing too hard
- Acidic foods
- Cracked teeth or damaged teeth
In particular, some patients will never suffer with sensitive teeth until something changes and when experiencing sudden sensitivity, this is a good indicator of a dental problem. For instance, gum recession can expose the dentin underneath the enamel, which in turn can cause sensitivity. Filling material can be used to coat the gap between the gum line and the tooth but where treatment isn’t possible, an alternative as in many other cases, is to use sensitive toothpaste.
Sensitivity can also be caused by fillings. Having a cavity filled can be problematic and result in irritation of the tooth but should only last for a few months at most. Root canals are a possibility should the filling continue to cause sensitivity. The different types of fillings can also be an issue, with chewing and biting causing sensitivity across composite and metal fillings, as well as any other materials.
Teeth whitening treatment can also cause sensitivity issues due to the chemicals involved in removing stains, which eventually over time, can remove enamel. Despite the effectiveness of whitening and the quick time frames involved, there are downsides to the treatment and unfortunately, sensitivity is one of them.
Many of us grind our teeth at night, sometimes even without knowing it. It’s a common cause of tooth sensitivity but also can result in headaches, jaw tenderness and of course wear and tear on your teeth. There are a lot of reasons for people experiencing bruxism (teeth grinding), stress being one of them as well as medication and lifestyle (such as smoking or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol).
With so many people struggling with sensitive teeth, a permanent ongoing solution is necessary and for long term management sensitive toothpaste is the way to go. There are so many choices now, including Colgate, Sensodyne and Oral B, offering a mixture of different benefits for those with sensitive teeth. However, the key ingredient with many popular sensitive toothpastes, is potassium nitrate; an anti-sensitivity active ingredient, helping to desensitise the nerve by blocking the neural transmissions that cause sensitivity.
For the majority of these toothpastes, most of them contain teeth whitening support as well as potassium nitrate and enamel-repair benefits. In many cases, some patients use sensitive toothpastes because of the added benefits even if they don’t suffer with it and prefer a paste with a less “gritty” texture, which some complain about with regular toothpastes.
Risk Reducing Techniques
Although many people can’t rid themselves of sensitivity issues they can learn to manage it with the solutions mentioned above. However, if you don’t naturally experience sensitivity, it’s always best to maintain good brushing techniques to prevent yourself from developing sensitivity problems. So what can you do to reduce the risk of future problems?
As with tooth decay, sensitivity can start causing issues if you are not careful and mindful of your dental health. The following actions can help:
- Floss gently and carefully – don’t be too abrasive
- Brush your gums gently but in concentric small circles
- Don’t be too hard on your gums – be light and consistent with brushing
- Use a soft, sensitive-suitable toothbrush
- You could use an electronic toothbrush which assesses the required strength for brushing your gums and uses sensors to notify when you’re brushing too hard
- Stop using mouthwash regularly (perhaps switching to use only for 4 weeks and then a rest period).
- Ensure you have regular 6 monthly check-ups and cleaning to remove existing plaque