Sensitive teeth, or hypersensitivity, is a common dental ailment, especially as people age. As gum tissue starts to recede, a tooth’s root surface is exposed. It is made of a substance called dentin, which is thinner and softer than tooth enamel. The exposed dentin allows stimuli such as hot and cold drinks, sweet and sour foods, and even your toothbrush to trigger a temporary but acute toothache. Fortunately, dental hypersensitivity can be treated and cured.
Symptoms of Sensitive Teeth
- Persistent, sometimes disabling pain in a tooth or several teeth
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
You may simply have what's called dentin hypersensitivity, a common problem. The cause of it is uncertain, but one theory proposes that the movement of fluids deep inside the tooth stimulates the nerves. Whatever the mechanism may be, wear and tear on the teethfor example, overzealous brushing or constant teeth grinding, which causes enamel to thinis usually responsible. Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits and juices or wine, may cause sensitive teeth to ache.
What If You Do Nothing?
Hypersensitivity may persist, but can suddenly disappear on its own.
Home Remedies for Sensitive Teeth
- Switch your toothbrush. Using an extra soft toothbrush will prevent the wearing down of root surfaces.
- Floss your teeth at least daily after brushing.
- Change your brushing technique. Avoid brushing horizontally. This will help minimize tooth abrasion and the exposure of tooth roots.
- Try a special toothpaste. Specially formulated desensitizing toothpastes such as Sensodyne or Denquel can help bring relief. (Be sure to buy a brand with the seal of the American Dental Association.) These contain compounds, such as strontium chloride and potassium nitrate, that can reduce the painful nerve response, though it often takes a month or so of regular use for this to occur.
- Schedule regular dental visits. A thorough cleaning will reduce dental plaque and lessen the sensitivity.
- Avoid foods that seem to aggravate the condition. Hot coffee, ice cream, wine, and grapefruit juice are often prime offenders.
Preventing Sensitive Teeth
See the recommendations listed above.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Contact your dentist if the recommended self-care measures don’t bring relief.
What Your Doctor Will Do
After a careful examination your dentist will make sure no underlying problem needs treatmenta cavity, nocturnal teeth grinding, a dying root, or a fractured tooth. Your dentist may recommend fluoride treatments. Although expensive, they can help reduce sensitivity. Sealants and resins, applied to sensitive areas, may also be useful. If nothing else works, root canal therapy may eliminate the problem.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media