Tooth sensitivity is more common than you think – but we don't have to suffer in silence. Lead general dentist at Northumberland Dental Care, Dr Jennifer Collins, has shared her top tips on how to prevent it
If you struggle to take ice-cold drinks and the thought of eating sorbet makes you wince, you might have sensitive teeth – and you're not the only one.
"Tooth sensitivity is a common condition which can cause considerable pain and discomfort," says Dr Jennifer Collins, lead general dentist at Northumberland Dental Care in Dublin 4. "Having sensitive teeth can mean anything from getting a mild twinge to experiencing severe discomfort that continues for several hours," she explains.
For those of us who struggle with tooth sensitivity, even a chilly morning can set our mouths on edge. But why are our teeth sensitive? And what can we do to improve (or rather, prevent) sensitivity? Quite a lot, it seems.
Why are my teeth sensitive?
"A key reason for tooth sensitivity is enamel erosion," says Dr Jennifer Collins. "Enamel is one of the strongest materials in the body; it's the part of the tooth we can see, which protects the softer dentine underneath. When your enamel wears thin, it can expose the dentine, causing the tooth to become sensitive," she says.
Other things, such as brushing your teeth too hard, can cause sensitivity too. "Brushing with a hard toothbrush or brushing from side to side can cause enamel to be worn away," says Dr Collins, "particularly where the teeth meet the gums".
That's not to say you shouldn't brush your gums; just make sure to do so gently. After all, a build-up of plaque or tartar can cause the gums to recede; thus exposing the roots of the teeth, which do not have an enamel layer to protect them. A soft toothbrush and gentle brushing will go a long way.
Photo by Superkitina on Unsplash
Beyond that, enamel erosion can be caused by tooth grinding or clenching at night (also known as bruxism); teeth whitening treatments; acidic foods and drinks; cracked teeth and dental cavities.
Your dentist or dental hygienist can help to identify or eliminate any underlying causes of a sensitive tooth, as well as recommend how best to treat it.
Dr Jennifer Collins says, "Once your dentist has ruled out any underlying issues, they may suggest treating the affected teeth over a period of weeks with special desensitising products such as fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes.
"In some cases, they may recommend sealing or filling around the neck of the tooth to cover exposed dentine; or a new filling or crown on the tooth might be necessary. In extreme circumstances, a root canal treatment may be indicated," she says.
Before all that, there are a number of steps you can take to help manage and prevent sensitive teeth at home.
10 ways to prevent sensitive teeth
- Brush your teeth twice daily for two minutes, especially last thing at night, using a soft-bristled toothbrush
- Try to brush in a circular motion with gentle pressure, rather than side-to-side
- Use fluoride toothpaste to help keep teeth strong and prevent dental decay, or try a desensitising toothpaste as recommended by your dentist
- Floss teeth once a day to remove plaque, preferably before brushing
- Reduce the frequency of sugary or acidic snacks and carbonated drinks
- Drink plenty of water to help dilute any acid attacks caused by food or drinks
- After eating, wait 30 minutes before brushing, which will give your enamel a chance to re-harden
- If you grind your teeth, talk to your dentist about wearing a mouth guard at night
- If you are considering tooth whitening, discuss sensitivity with your dentist before starting treatment
- Schedule a full dental check-up with your dentist at least once a year, or more frequently as advised.
Dr Jennifer Collins is a lead general dentist at Northumberland Dental Care in Dublin 4, part of the Dental Care Ireland group.
For further tips and advice on how to look after your oral health, visit nidm.ie.
Feature photo: Lesly Juarez via Unsplash
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