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Learn everything you need to know about teeth sensitivity: what causes it, symptoms, treatments, and home remedies

Would you believe us if we told you that enough Americans struggle with sensitive teeth to match the entire population of California?


That’s around forty million people, which works out to about 12% of the entire US population.


Believe it or not, those were the numbers reported by the Academy of General Dentistry back in 2012.


With statistics like that, there’s a good chance that either you or someone you know is dealing with this dental health issue right now. 


But what causes teeth sensitivity? How can you identify it? And what can you do about it?


In today’s article, we’ll be diving into each of these questions and providing you with the knowledge and solutions you need to do what’s best for your smile.


Tooth Sensitivity Symptoms to Look Out for

If you start to feel discomfort in your mouth, it can set your mind off on a rollercoaster of worries and assumptions.


To help you determine if what you’re feeling is teeth sensitivity, there are a few telltale signs to watch out for.


If you feel discomfort or sensitivity when:

  • Consuming hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and drinks
  • Brushing or flossing
  • Using mouth rinses that contain alcohol, or
  • Breathing in cold air…


Then you might have a case of sensitive teeth.


The sensation can often be told apart from the pain due to a cavity or other dental health problem… 


But sometimes, a tooth can be so sensitive that it hurts. If this is the case for you, check to see if the gums around the problem tooth have receded. 


If you notice that the gumline is lower than the surrounding teeth, that can be a dead giveaway that sensitivity is at the root of the issue – pun intended!


Another possibility is if you have a crack in one of your teeth or dental restoration such as a filling or crown. If the break goes deep enough, it could reach the root of your tooth and cause discomfort.


If you ever have teeth chipping, or break one of your teeth, it’s crucial to visit your San Diego dentist as soon as possible. 


Dental emergencies like these can cause unseen damage to your mouth, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.


What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Now that we’ve learned the symptoms, it’s important to know why our teeth become sensitive so we can take the proper steps to fix it when it happens.


Tooth sensitivity is caused by the exposure of the inner layers of your teeth that house nervous tissue, also known as dentin.


Your dentin can become exposed either from receding gums or the breakdown of enamel. 


Enamel is the protective outer layer of your teeth that does its best to shield your smile from the sugars and acids in the foods and drinks you consume.


Both gum recession and enamel breakdown can occur in several different ways, which we’ve outlined for you below:

  • Age-related gum recession – As we get older, our gums are more likely to recede. The California Dental Association reports that receding gums are common in those forty years old and above. In some cases, this is due to poor hygiene and dental health complications, but it is commonly considered to be a natural change that comes with aging.
  • Heavy-handed brushing – If you brush too hard too often, your gums may become irritated and start to recede, leaving them feeling sensitive and uncomfortable. 
  • Tooth decay and gum disease – Tartar and plaque buildup on your teeth can cause your gums to recede and eat away at your tooth enamel. If left untreated, the bacteria can eat through your enamel and eventually expose the dentin of your teeth, leading to intense discomfort. 
  • Smoking tobacco – Aside from major concerns like raising your risk of oral cancer, smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products causes direct damage to your gums and can cause them to recede. It also increases your risk of developing gum disease.
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth – Excessive pressure on your teeth from clenching or grinding can wear down your enamel and ultimately expose the roots of your teeth.
  • Cracks in your teeth or restorations As we discussed above, cracks in your teeth, fillings, or crowns can spread down to your roots, causing sensitivity and pain. 


How to Treat Sensitive Teeth

So, you can’t eat or drink anything too hot or cold without discomfort. What can you do about it?


If you notice your teeth are sensitive, the first thing we recommend is getting in touch with your San Diego dentist immediately. It may be something as simple as brushing too hard, but the only way to know for sure is to see a professional.


Once they identify the source of the issue, they can point you in the right direction towards solving it.


Your solution will vary based on your unique situation, but here’s a list of potential treatments your dentist may use to treat or even cure your sensitive teeth

  • Toothpaste for sensitive teeth – Your dentist may recommend specific brands of toothpaste designed to desensitize your teeth, like Sensodyne, Colgate Renewal, etc.
  • Mouthwash for sensitive teeth – Brands like Sensodyne and Listerine make mouthwash to help relieve discomfort from sensitivity and strengthen enamel. Items like these might also be on your list of dentist recommendations.
  • Fluoride treatments Fluoride is known for its ability to strengthen enamel. To help your teeth regrow their protective layer, your dentist may prescribe fluoride dental treatments or apply fluoride directly to your teeth where they’re the most sensitive. 
  • Restoration replacement – If your filling or crown is damaged, your dentist will put in a new one to seal up your tooth and protect the root from exposure.
  • Mouthguards – If you have problems with grinding or clenching, your dentist can provide a personalized mouthguard to wear at night to prevent any further damage.
  • Root canal – If your sensitivity is unbearable and all else fails, your dentist may suggest a tooth root canal to eliminate the problem. But don’t worry, these treatments are usually the last resort. By the way, if reading about them scares you, check out our article about root canals here. Many people think they’re painful no matter what, but that doesn’t have to be the case!


Ways to Prevent or Reduce Teeth Sensitivity

Once you’ve sought treatment, there are plenty of ways to fight the good fight and maintain your dental health outside the office:


Brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush – To avoid irritating your gums, apply only minimal pressure when doing your daily brushing. And if you’re using anything other than a soft-bristle brush, make the switch. Your gums will thank you!


Limit your consumption of acidic and sugary foods and drinks – Sweets, sodas, candy, alcohol. What do all these treats have in common? Your teeth aren’t very big fans of any of them. So, whenever you indulge, do so in moderation and make sure to clean your teeth afterward.


Rinse with saltwater – Some treatments can cause teeth sensitivity for a few days following your dentist visit. Mixing half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of room-temperature water and rinsing with it can provide temporary relief from any discomfort or pain.


Avoid tobacco products – If you want to quit but aren’t sure how don’t be afraid to talk with your doctor. The sooner you stop smoking, the faster your risk of gum disease and oral cancer will decrease.


Put a hold on any teeth whitening treatments – Ghost White Teeth Whitening products, whether at the office or over-the-counter, are known to cause sensitive teeth. If you’re already feeling discomfort, these treatments can make things worse. Wait until you’ve got your sensitivity under control before using any of these products.


Maintain good oral hygiene and schedule regular checkups at your San Diego dentist – The best way to prevent tooth sensitivity is to stay on top of your daily emergency dental care and make time for professional cleanings and exams. If you haven’t already, contact your local San Diego dentist today to set up a checkup and ensure your smile is taken care of.


For You, About You Dentistry in San Diego

At Dental Express San Diego, our mission is to embolden as many lives through dentistry as possible. If you’re a San Diego local and you struggle with sensitive teeth, we’re always here to help.


If you have any questions about your symptoms, treatments, or home remedies, we’d love to hear from you. We also accept walk-ins and same-day appointments, so you can come in whenever is most convenient for you.


With six locations in the greater San Diego area, affordable dental care is right in your neighborhood. Come say hello; we’d love to see your smile!


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