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Have you ever taken a drink of ice-cold water and then winced because of the pain, or found you are unable to enjoy a hot cup of coffee without your teeth starting to ache? If this sounds familiar, chances are you have sensitive teeth.

What are sensitive teeth?

Tooth sensitivity is the common term for dentine hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. According to Colgate, approximately half of today’s population experiences tooth sensitivity. Hypersensitivity is a result of dentine (the layer under your enamel) or cementum (the layer covering the root) becoming exposed due to receding gums or periodontal disease. Dentine and cementum contain microscopic tunnels with nerve endings that are sensitive to temperature and acidity: this is what triggers your nerves and can cause pain.

How to tell if you have sensitive teeth

Do you experience flashes of pain to your teeth when you’re enjoying your favourite ice-cream recipe or hot beverages? Do you have to take a delicate approach to brushing and flossing? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you may suffer from sensitive teeth. Sensitivity can be every now and again or frequent, and the level of discomfort experienced can vary. The triggers can range from hot and cold, to sweet and sour foods or drinks. Some people describe the sensitivity as their teeth being “on edge”.

10 common causes of sensitive teeth

Sensitivity can occur as sharp, sudden and shooting pain when eating, drinking, brushing, and sometimes even breathing in cold air. Some factors that can contribute to tooth sensitivity, include:

  1. Acidic foods and beverages. Studies show that consuming acidic foods and beverages is the most common cause of tooth sensitivity because it wears down tooth enamel and affects the gums, exposing a soft tissue called dentine that connects to tooth nerves.
  2. Acid reflux. People who suffer with acid reflux have an increased risk of tooth sensitivity because of enamel erosion and periodontal problems, which occur when stomach contents leak backwards into the oesophagus dissolving the protective layers of teeth.
  3. Brushing too hard or too much. Is your brushing technique the root of your teeth sensitivity problem? Brushing with too much force can, over time, wear down the protective layers on teeth, exposing the underlying dentine that surrounds the nerve, increasing tooth sensitivity. Vigorous brushing can also damage gums, causing them to recede.
  4. Gum disease (gingivitis). Teeth sensitivity is a sign of periodontitis, a condition that occurs as a result of prolonged gum disease (gingivitis). It causes gum recession and over time damages the bone that supports teeth. If left untreated, it can result in tooth loss as well as other serious health problems.
  5. Excessive plaque. Bad dental health, caused by poor brushing techniques, can lead to an excessive build-up of plaque. This eventually wears away tooth enamel, and over time exposes underlying dentine, which increases tooth sensitivity.
  6. Teeth grinding. Studies show that teeth grinding, or bruxism, increases tooth sensitivity due to a loss of tooth substance that occurs when tiny notches, also known as abfraction lesions, form on the gum line. This exposes the dentine of the tooth, leading to tooth sensitivity.
  7. Age and genetics. Tooth sensitivity is a normal part of the ageing process, especially if you haven’t maintained good dental health. It occurs when the underlying dentine of the tooth becomes exposed as a result of age-related gum recession and reduced tooth enamel, increasing sensitivity.
  8. Dental procedures. Some dental treatments can wear away enamel as a result of harsh chemicals or abrasives, which can cause tooth sensitivity during or immediately after the procedure.
  9. Mouthwash. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain alcohol and other chemicals that can damage the outer-protective layers of teeth, which may increase dental sensitivity as a result of exposing the underlying root system.
  10. Tooth whitening products. Whitening your teeth is a safe and effective procedure, however you may experience sensitivity after treatment. The bleaching solution used to whiten your teeth can remove minerals within the enamel and can cause sensitive teeth. Some tooth whitening toothpastes contain chemical agents and abrasives that can cause sensitivity, especially if there is exposed dentine present. Specially formulated toothpastes, which are designed to reduce tooth sensitivity, may assist in reducing symptoms over time. Ethos offers professional teeth whitening with a focus on dental health, so you can ensure that you will enjoy a bright, healthy smile.

Treatment for sensitive teeth

If your teeth feel particularly painful, you should first see your dentist and discuss your symptoms. Treatment might be as simple as applying a fluoride varnish to your teeth or repairing an existing filling. However, if the cause of the sensitivity is gum disease or loss, your dentist may refer you to a periodontist for further assessment and treatment.

Prevention and reduction of tooth sensitivity

There are a number of simple things you can do on a daily basis to avoid tooth sensitivity. If drinking a cup of tea or biting into an ice cream has you wincing in pain then read on for some remedies to help keep the problem at bay.

  1. Stay away from highly acidic foods and drinks. Highly acidic foods and drinks such as soft drinks and oranges can soften the enamel on your teeth. Be sure to avoid brushing your teeth for at least 60 minutes after eating or drinking acidic foods or drinks as this can increase the chances of enamel erosion.
  2. Use a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. Use a special toothpaste specifically formulated for sensitive teeth, which can help block pain triggers in the teeth and alleviate pain.
  3. Avoid hard bristled toothbrushes. Use a soft bristled toothbrush and avoid brushing too vigorously as you’ll wear away the enamel on your teeth. Also avoid brushing your teeth back and forth as this can cause receding gums. Both of these things can increase the sensitivity of your teeth even more.
  4. Stop teeth grinding. Grinding your teeth or clenching your teeth can damage enamel, so if you find that you are doing this, look into getting a mouthguard to wear at night. A visit to your dentist can help address this issue.
  5. Keep up good brushing habits. You should be brushing for at least two minutes twice a day, and flossing regularly! You should make sure you clean every tooth and use the correct brushing techniques.
  6. Maintain regular dental check ups. Dental check ups should be a priority for general dental health, but it’s also important to make sure that any signs of tooth sensitivity can be diagnosed as early as possible to help minimise the damage. Your dentist can also treat the affected teeth with special desensitising products such as fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes to provide some protection.
  7. Limit teeth whitening products. At-home teeth whitening products contain abrasive ingredients that can increase the chances of tooth sensitivity. If you really want to use these products, it’s best to check in with your dentist first, or choose a professional tooth whitening alternative such as Ethos Brite.
  8. Drink plenty of water. Yet another great reason to drink plenty of water! The fluoride contained in tap water can help strengthen the enamel on your teeth and also protect against tooth decay. The stronger the enamel on your teeth, the more you minimise tooth sensitivity.

Can you get braces with sensitive teeth?

Braces and aligners do put some pressure on your teeth, however if you follow the tips listed above, you can avoid unnecessary discomfort.  You may notice a higher level of sensitivity than normal at the start of treatment, but this will normally subside over three or four days. During this time, you may alleviate any discomfort with over-the-counter pain medication, soft comfort foods and rest.

Does Invisalign cause sensitive teeth?

While it is normal to feel slight pressure on your teeth during Invisalign treatment, research actually indicates that wearing Invisalign clear aligners can make your teeth less susceptible to sensitivity. You may feel a loose feeling with your teeth during or right after completion of Invisalign treatment. However, this usually settles down within the first few weeks.

If you are concerned about tooth sensitivity before, during or after orthodontic treatment, speak to the friendly Ethos team today. We can work on your treatment plan to help reduce tooth sensitivity and help you reach your perfect smile with minimal discomfort.