Sensitive teeth can make routine activities very unpleasant. Hot and cold foods or drinks can cause a sharp pain, sweet or sour foods can trigger a dull ache, and sometimes even brushing your teeth can hurt. Discomfort varies from a mild twinge to significant pain that goes deep into a tooth's nerve endings. People can develop sensitive teeth at any age, but the condition occurs most commonly between the ages of 20 and 40. Some causes of sensitive teeth are preventable, while others can be managed once they begin.
Exposure of the dentin, the soft tissue under tooth enamel, is the underlying cause of sensitive teeth. Dentin contains thousands of tiny tubules leading to the pulp, or nerve center, of the tooth. The roots aren't covered by enamel, but they're usually protected by gum tissue. Unprotected dentin lets a stimulus, such as hot or cold temperature, travel through the tubules and reach the nerves within the tooth.
Brushing too hard on a regular basis can wear away enamel. This causes toothbrush abrasion that leads to sensitive teeth. The most vulnerable area for toothbrush abrasion is the gumline. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush your teeth gently to avoid irritating the gums and nerves.
Dental erosion is the loss of tooth enamel due to acidic food and drinks. Many people in the U.S. experience this issue due to regular soda consumption. Other acidic foods and beverages include citrus fruit, energy drinks, tomatoes, pickles, and tea. Rinsing your mouth with water after consuming acidic foods and beverages may reduce dental erosion by quickly washing away the damaging acid.
Receding gums often cause tooth sensitivity. Gum tissue erodes or pulls away from teeth and leaves the roots exposed. Gingivitis, periodontitis, and other gum diseases are the most common causes of receding gums. Brushing too hard can also push gum tissue away from the teeth, in some cases. Pockets formed as the gums recede can also trap food and bacteria, leading to tooth decay.
Over-the-counter tooth whitening products can be tempting. They're fairly inexpensive and may promise shining white smiles. These products may or may not provide the desired results, but they can potentially cause sensitive teeth. Many whitening products contain harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that weaken enamel. The risk of developing sensitivity increases with frequent use of whitening products.
Gastroesophageal reflux refers to stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. The acid causes a burning pain — heartburn. In some cases, this issue progresses to GERD, which is a more severe type of acid reflux. The symptoms include coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and regurgitated stomach contents. Stomach acid entering the mouth can erode tooth enamel and cause sensitivity in the same way as acidic foods.
Cracked or chipped teeth have areas of damaged enamel and exposed dentin. Localized sensitivity can occur in the damaged areas, but the entire tooth may be affected, eventually. Even a tiny crack gives bacteria a chance to enter and reach the pulp. Infected or inflamed pulp irritates the nerves, which makes the entire tooth sensitive to any stimuli. This situation can develop without a visible cavity, but dental treatment is essential because the infected pulp could result in a very painful abscess.
Regular dental care is important for healthy teeth. However, dental procedures such as scaling, cavity fillings, and crown restoration sometimes cause sensitive teeth, too. Scaling and deep cleaning are the most likely to trigger temporary sensitivity because they push the gums away from teeth. Sensitivity after a procedure can last up to six weeks.
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Although mouthwash is generally considered a beneficial part of good dental hygiene, it can cause sensitive teeth in certain circumstances. Many varieties contain acids, alcohol, and other chemicals. Rinsing with over-the-counter mouthwashes multiple times each day can erode enamel, and mixtures containing alcohol may irritate the gums and make existing sensitivity worse.
Many people experience tooth sensitivity while they have sinus headaches. The upper teeth are usually more significantly affects because the roots are very close to maxillary sinus cavities. Inflammation, swelling, and mucus buildup in sinus cavities may put pressure on nerves running into the roots of upper and back teeth. Causes of sinus headaches include bacterial or viral infection, allergies, or irritation from contaminants in the air.
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