Tooth Sensitivity Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

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Over 40 percent of adults have some type of dentin hypersensitivity (tooth sensitivity) at some point in their lives. Women tend to have it more than men. The symptoms can be painful, but treatment options can help.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity Pain

It’s not uncommon for cold and hot foods to cause tooth sensitivity, however, if you’re experiencing other symptoms with it like pain, swollen gums or loose teeth, a dental issue may be what’s causing your sensitive teeth. While your dentist can exam you and determine what the underlying cause of your sensitivity is, it’s a good idea you know yourself what could be causing your oral problem.

According to the American Dental Association, possible causes include:

  • Fractured teeth
  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Exposed tooth root
  • Worn fillings
  • Worn tooth enamel

You have a layer of enamel protecting your teeth crowns above your gum line. There’s also a layer of cementum protecting your tooth root under your gum line. Dentin is underneath both the cementum and enamel.

Dentin isn’t as dense as cementum and enamel. It contains small hollow canals or tubes (microscopic tubules. When your dentin loses its protective cementum or enamel covering, these tubules allow acidic, sticky or cold and hot foods to reach to the cells and nerves of the inside of your tooth. You may also have exposed dentin with receding gums. All these things lead to hypersensitivity.

Symptoms of Tooth Sensitivity Pain

Discomfort after you eat or drink something cold is the primary symptom you’ll experience with tooth sensitivity. You may experience this pain all of a sudden and the sensitivity you experience can be anywhere from mild to severe.

Some individuals who are experiencing tooth sensitivity are also experiencing pain while they brush and floss their teeth. Finding the source of their sensitivity and treating it is essential since trying to brush and floss their teeth while in pain can result in poor oral hygiene. This can lead to dental issues like cavities and gum disease.

Tooth Sensitivity Pain Treatment

Sensitive teeth don’t just disappear completely. You may experience mild symptoms at one point and then more severe at another. Your symptoms may go away altogether only to come back in a week. Until the underlying problem of your sensitivity is found, you’ll keep going through this cycle.

There are numerous treatments available to you for dentin hypersensitivity. The underlying issue of your sensitivity will determine the treatment you need. Treatment is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Some treatments may include:

At-Home Treatments

The following are some at-home treatments you can try:

  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Avoid grinding your teeth — consider a mouth-guard.
  • Try a desensitizing toothpaste (you’ll find many brands or your dentist will recommend you one).
  • Rinse with fluoridated mouthwash every day.
  • Avoid highly acidic foods.

In-Office Treatment

Your first step is to consult with your dentist. Talk to them about your symptoms and discomfort. Let them know when the sensitivity started and what types of things help you feel better — warm compresses. Once your dentist takes some x-rays and identifies the reason behind your tooth sensitivity, they can begin treatment.

Some treatments your dentist may try include:

Desensitizing Agent

If you have received a dentin hypersensitivity diagnosis, your dentist might apply a protecting coating or desensitizing agent over your teeth. They may prescribe you a stannous fluoride gel or recommend a desensitizing toothpaste over the counter that contains either potassium nitrate, fluoride or strontium chloride. Any of these three ingredients will help to block the sensation transmission between the nerve and tooth.

An Inlay, Crown or Bonding

Your dentist may use any of these to correct decay or a flaw that leads to your sensitivity.

Root Canal

If you have persistent and severe sensitivity the dentist or yourself can’t treat with other methods, your dentist may suggest a root canal to get rid of the problem.

Surgical Gum Graft

If you have lost gum tissue from the root, a surgical gum graft will protect this root and decrease sensitivity.

Tooth Sensitivity Prevention

Here are some steps you can take to prevent tooth sensitivity:

  1. Prevent gum loss by using a toothbrush with soft bristles, and don’t brush your teeth too hard.
  2. Use a sensitivity toothpaste regularly when brushing your teeth.
  3. Brush your teeth twice daily and floss once daily to prevent gum loss.
  4. Use a mouth rinse containing flouride.
  5. Ensure you’re effectively cleaning all areas of your mouth, including along your gum line and between your teeth.
  6. Avoid acidic drinks and foods.
  7. Chew on sugar free gum if you like to chew gum.
  8. Wear a mouthguard if you grind your teeth while sleeping.

Keep all dental care appointments. You should receive a checkup twice a year. Don’t cancel your dental visits because you’re experiencing tooth pain. Ignoring this pain can make your dental issues worse.

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