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Teeth Sensitivity – causes and treatment

All your questions on teeth sensitivity answered here.

Written by Debjani Arora |Updated : February 24, 2015 10:12 PM IST

All you need to know about sensitive teeth

If you feel a twinge of discomfort while sipping hot or cold liquids, having foods like ice-creams or smoothies, or even while swishing your mouth with water (whether it is ice-cold or warm), chances are you are suffering from teeth sensitivity. 'This problem is very common with people and the most under diagnosed one,' says Dr Karishma Jaradi, Dentzz Dental Clinics, Mumbai. But teeth sensitivity is not only restricted to tasting hot and cold foods or liquids, but may also be felt if you exert slight pressure on your gums either with your brush or your fingers.

What causes teeth sensitivity?

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Teeth sensitivity is usually caused due to exposed dentine. According to Dr Jaradi, 'Dentine is the inner substance of a tooth that is usually covered and protected by the enamel. When this comes in contact with food or drinks directly, it causes a slight shot of pain and a tingling sensation that reaches down the roots. Regular wear and tear of the tooth can make the enamel thin, especially where the tooth meets the root, at the gum line. Once the enamel wears out, the cementum, a substance that covers the root also gives way. This exposes the dentine, which contains little tubules or nerves, on the inside of the tooth. When exposed to differential temperature through food and liquids it stimulates the nerves causing pain and those uncomfortable symptoms.' Read more about teeth sensitivity.

What makes the enamel wear out leading to sensitive teeth?

There are several factors that can lead to enamel wear and tear causing tooth sensitivity in an individual. Oral hygiene, food habits and other health issues all take a toll on the enamel. Here are some of the most common causes that lead to the condition:

Tooth decay and cavities: This is one of the primary factors or conditions that leads to the development of various dental troubles and complications as well. 'Cavities or decayed tooth can expose the nerve root. It can further lead to receding gum lines that can add to the impending problem. A cracked or fractured tooth can also end up with the same situation,' says Dr Jaradi. Also read 10 signs of dental cavities you didn't know.

Receding gum lines: Very often, receding gum lines, either due to cavities or regular wear and tear, can expose the dentin, at the nerve roots, making the tooth sensitive.

Improper dental practices: Faulty dental habits like inadequate brushing or giving flossing a miss can also be a probable cause. 'Vigorous brushing with a hard bristled toothbrush can also lead to gums becoming weak and result in the same. Periodontal disease due to bad oral practices can cause gum recession, exposing the dentin. Also accumulation of plaque over a period of time can lead to cavities or make a tooth go weak leading to the same fate,' says Dr Jaradi. Also read 10 habits that can destroy your teeth and gums.

Bad food habits: If you consume foods that have a rather high acid content, like certain processed foods, over time it can expose the enamel and lead to a great deal of discomfort.

Teeth whitening or other cosmetic procedures: 'While it is good to go for a smile makeover opting for whitening procedures, but the products used in the procedure are major contributors to sensitivity,' says Dr Jaradi.

Suffering from bruxism: Grinding or clenching of teeth while asleep, due to a condition called bruxism, can also be a probable cause. Read to know all that you should know about the condition bruxism.

How can one counter tooth sensitivity?

There are ways in which one can prevent tooth sensitivity or counter its severity; here is what you need to do:

Maintain a proper dental care regimen: 'Brush your teeth twice daily with a soft bristles tooth brush and do it gently. Never forget to floss your teeth as it can clean the corners of the mouth where your brush cannot reach. Make sure to always use a mouthwash after you brush. Even if you can't brush after every meal, gargle. Opt for a non-alcohol mouthwash with fluoride content as they are specifically designed to reduce sensitivity,' advises Dr Jaradi. Rinse your mouth with a mouthwash before you go to sleep, so that the mouthwash doesn't get washed off too soon.

Change your food habits: 'Stay away from drinks that are high in citric acid, especially juices like tomatoes, orange, lemon, soda and aerated drinks. Avoid having hot or cold items that can aggravate the sensitivity. Having spicy food regularly can make your enamel become thin and lead to sensitivity. Additionally, sweetened foods will worsen the situation, especially if your enamel is damaged. They can reach the roots easily and lead to a sharp shooting pain. Instead have a balanced diet. Eating high-fibre foods keeps saliva flowing, which helps create mineral defenses against sensitivity,' says Dr Jaradi. Good sources of fibre are dried fruits such as dates, raisins and figs, and fresh fruits, like bananas and apples. Other options include veggies, such as beans, cabbage and peas, along with peanuts and almonds. An apple is perhaps the simplest solution, when brushing is not possible 3-4 times in a day. Also read about top foods that you didn't know was causing cavities in your teeth.

Load up on calcium: Calcium is a crucial ingredient in the prevention of tooth problems. Dairy foods are a great source, with choices such as milk, yoghurt and cheese. If you're worried about your weight or cholesterol, skim milk and low-fat yogurt are just as good. Other options are leafy greens such as broccoli, canned fish with bones, almonds, Brazil nuts and dried beans. Plain yoghurt, fresh fruits and nuts can be a healthy snack.

Drink adequate water: Drink at least 4 litres of water every day. This is especially important after eating, as it helps to wash away plaque that sticks on teeth resulting in pain or sensitivity.

How can tooth sensitivity be treated?

Here are a few ways in which teeth sensitivity can be treated:

Use fluoride toothpastes: 'Brushing with pastes that have desensitizing agents like fluoride can help. It works by blocking off the dentinal tubules, so that the nerves don't get stimulated. Put a certain amount of paste on your finger and directly apply on the sore spot and gently massage it,' says Dr Jaradi.

Get treated for bruxism: If you grind or clench your teeth, use a mouthguard at night. You can only get one made after a proper dental examination however, so use the one recommended by your dentist.

Go for a root canal: Your dentist might recommend a root canal to treat the soft pulp of the tooth from where the pain or sensitivity originates. A root canal can block the nerve sensations and hence help in treating tooth sensitivity. Also read root canal treatments - your queries answered.

Opt for advanced treatment: Severe tooth sensitivity can make your dentist take a different approach of treatment. 'Special fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes can be applied on the affected area to keep the symptoms in check. If that doesn't help, your dentist might seal or put bonding agents around the neck of the tooth, to cover exposed dentine,' says Dr Jaradi.

Image source: Getty images

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