If you’re in the middle of enjoying a delicious meal or a refreshing drink, nothing quite ruins the experience like tooth pain. But beyond the annoyance that comes with tooth sensitivity, it can be signs of bigger issues later down the road. Luckily, there are ways you can mitigate tooth sensitivity to be more comfortable and avoid other problems.
What Is Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity typically comes in the form of a sudden, sharp pain in the tooth or jaw. It can happen while consuming hot or cold foods or even simply due to air exposure. Many people also report experiencing tooth sensitivity while brushing or flossing.
So, what exactly is happening when you experience this pain? Tooth sensitivity occurs when dentin, the layer of teeth below the enamel, is exposed. When enamel breaks down or when the gum line recedes to a certain level, it can expose the dentin. As opposed to the tougher enamel, the dentin is softer and contains more nerve endings, which makes it far more sensitive. So when you experience tooth sensitivity, it generally means some dentin is exposed, causing pain.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
While having sensitive teeth is a common experience, with about 40 million Americans reporting they deal with it, the cause can be very different for each individual. For some, their tooth sensitivity is a result of their genes. People can have genes that cause their teeth to have weaker enamel or naturally soft gums. This makes it easier for the dentin to become exposed.
Sensitive teeth can also be the result of tooth decay from plaque buildup. Cavities that go untreated can break down the enamel and expose nerve endings. Similarly, if the gums start to recede due to poor flossing habits, the dentin can be exposed under the healthy gum line.
Other times, excessive cleaning habits can lead to tooth sensitivity, including brushing too hard. The pressure from these activities can wear down the enamel and damage the gums.
Tooth Sensitivity and Braces or Invisalign
When you begin orthodontic treatment with braces or Invisalign, you may experience a small period of discomfort. This is somewhat different from normal tooth sensitivity since the achy sensation is more concentrated in the jaw and is far less sharp. After a few days, this discomfort should cease.
Dealing with Tooth Sensitivity
If you experience tooth sensitivity for extended periods of time, one of the first things you should do is make an appointment with your dentist. They can identify what is causing the dentin to become exposed, allowing you to take the proper steps. If you have cavities, you’ll likely need fillings to address the bacterial decay of your teeth.
If the wearing down of your enamel or gums isn’t related to bacterial decay, you can take steps on your own to reduce tooth sensitivity, such as eating less acidic foods, brushing more gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush, and wearing a mouthguard at night to avoid teeth grinding. While your teeth are still sensitive, you can ease the pain by avoiding cold foods, rinsing with warm salt water, and switching to a desensitizing toothpaste with potassium nitrate.
At the end of your orthodontic treatment, you will likely find that you experience tooth sensitivity far less frequently since it will be easier to clean your teeth thoroughly, helping you avoid tooth decay.