There is nothing worse than ordering your favorite flavor of ice cream and taking that first bite only to feel a sudden, searing pain in your mouth. Although the pain will fade quickly, each bite will continue to make your mouth ache to the point where you have to wonder if eating your ice cream cone is even worth it. This unfortunate scenario is known as tooth sensitivity and it is estimated to affect 40 million Americans.
Tooth sensitivity is formally defined as a sudden pain that occurs when your teeth are exposed to hot or cold temperatures, as well as excessively sugary foods. It can occur in a single tooth or multiple teeth. Since sensitive teeth can indirectly cause dietary restrictions, many people seek ways to stop tooth sensitivity from occurring.
In order to alleviate tooth sensitivity, it is first important to determine its cause. It is far more difficult to put an end to something if you don’t know what is making it happen in the first place. Tooth sensitivity can be the result of various things, so it may take awhile to determine its exact cause. To speed up this process, it is recommended to visit a general dentist so they can perform an exam and diagnose the reason for your sensitivity.
Some possible causes of tooth sensitivity include:
- Tooth Decay
- Gum Disease
- Worn Enamel
- Exposed Tooth Root
- Worn Fillings
- Damaged Teeth
Once the cause of your sensitivity has been identified, then your dentist can recommend a treatment plan to stop tooth sensitivity. Here are some ways that a general dentist treats the different causes of sensitive teeth:
Cause: Tooth Decay/Worn Enamel
Tooth decay, more commonly known as cavities, occurs when there are excess bacterial populations in your mouth that produce an acidic waste product that erodes tooth enamel. Essentially, this means that your natural tooth structure is being slowly dissolved. This allows stimuli to enter the tooth and irritate the nerve, resulting in pain. A similar pattern can occur when your enamel has worn down over time and is no longer able to adequately protect your teeth. To stop tooth sensitivity caused by tooth decay, your dentist will likely remove the decayed tissue and place a dental filling to prevent future damage and protect the tooth.
Cause: Gum Disease/Exposed Tooth Root
Another common cause of tooth sensitivity is gum disease. Gum disease also occurs as a result of excess bacteria, however it occurs when the bacteria collect within the gum pockets along the border of gums and teeth. The bacteria infect the gum tissue, causing the infected gums to pull away from the teeth and expose the tooth root in a process known as gum recession. The exposed tooth roots have significantly less enamel than the rest of the tooth since they are normally protected by the gums, therefore they lack protection once the gums have receded. To stop tooth sensitivity caused by gum disease, your dentist will perform a deep cleaning to remove the excess bacteria from your mouth as a way of encouraging your gums to grow back properly.
Cause: Worn Fillings/Damaged Teeth
Similar to tooth decay and worn fillings, worn fillings and damaged teeth can both allow stimuli to work their way into the tooth. Over time, dental fillings lose their ability to seal the tooth and will need to be replaced to avoid causing an infection. Additionally, teeth that are chipped, cracked, or otherwise broken, can allow bacteria and stimuli to travel into the tooth, causing pain. In this case, your dentist will stop sensitivity by either replacing the filling or repairing the damage to seal the tooth.
As you can see, there are various causes and ways to stop tooth sensitivity. The method you will use ultimately depends on the reason behind the sensitivity. While there are plenty of over the counter solutions for tooth sensitivity, the best solution is to address the cause of the problem. In this way, you and your dentist can put a stop to tooth sensitivity for good.
Dr. Michael C. Shuck received his Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from the Medical College of Virginia, Cum Laude. He takes part in many volunteer outreach events, including Virginia’s Mission of Mercy project, Virginia Special Olympics, Give Kids a Smile, and the Jamaica Project. Dr. Shuck also is a regular volunteer at Williamsburg’s Olde Towne Medical Center. He actively participates with Virginia’s Donated Dental Service. Dr. Shuck has been a practicing dentist in the Williamsburg, Virginia area since 2007.