Eating Ice Cream Doesn’t Have to Hurt: 11 of Your Biggest Questions Answered About Sensitive Teeth & Gums
We have all experienced tooth sensitivity: that shooting sensation through our teeth as we bite into cold ice cream. Before, we had been eating the ice cream with no issues and then all of a sudden this rush of sensitivity comes out of nowhere. This feeling usually subsides quickly enough for us to dismiss it and carry on without considering what it really means. However, if we were to look deeper into the mystery that is teeth sensitivity, we would encounter some interesting new facts and knowledge that we hadn't known before. After all, if we knew more about it, perhaps it would be easier to prevent.
#1. WHAT IS TOOTH SENSITIVITY?
Other than a very uncomfortable experience, tooth sensitivity is a diagnosable condition. In fact, tooth sensitivity is just the colloquial description for what medical experts call root sensitivity or dentin hypersensitivity. The state of hypersensitivity simply refers to the overly active reaction that some teeth have to potent stimulators.
Tooth dentin contains thousands of tiny fluid pores called dentin tubules. Due to exposure of these pores, it is possible for the inner fluid to move. This is precisely what causes that sharp pain we uncomfortably experience. We will take a more in-depth look at dentin in the following questions.
- Air pressure/cold air
- Sensitive teeth to cold food or drink
- Hot food and drink
- High levels of acidity in drinks or food
- Sensitive teeth to sugar or anything that tastes very sweet
- Biting down or chewing
Anytime that food with these characteristics causes abnormal and localized pain in our teeth, we are likely to suffer from sensitive teeth. With an estimated half of the population suffering from this condition, tooth sensitivity is not a rare experience. However common it may be, tooth sensitivity tends to come and go with time.
#2. WHAT ARE SENSITIVE TEETH PAIN SYMPTOMS?
Pain is our body's way of telling us there is something wrong. It is a feeling triggered in the nervous system, and tends to be unpleasant such as the pain we feel when experiencing tooth sensitivity. Sensitive teeth pain is usually a sudden, sharp pain and can have us wincing after a bite of ice cream or a can of soda. There are not usually any additional symptoms and the symptoms subside quickly after exposure. However, there are some cases where sensitive teeth symptoms can be present during a cold or sinus infection.
Sensitive teeth when sick. A cold or sinus infection can often be mistaken for sensitive teeth. This is due to the sinuses and the upper back teeth sharing the same nerves, which can cause pain in the teeth.
Tooth sensitive to cold but not hot. When teeth are sensitive to hot temperatures, this can indicate a nerve that is sick and could require a visit to the Dentist.
Sensitive teeth vs cavity. It is also difficult to indicate whether or not sensitive teeth symptoms mean you have a cavity, which is why:
I know we all love to self-diagnose and google our symptoms, but it's important to always check with your doctor and/or dentist if you are experiencing these sensitive teeth symptoms.
#3. WHAT CAUSES SENSITIVE TEETH PAIN? IT'S ALL IN THE DENTIN
There is a lot of mystery surrounding sensitive teeth causes. However, a short look into the scientific explanations can put all uncertainty to rest. In short, we experience tooth sensitivity when dentin is exposed. Dentin is a tissue that comprises one of the four major components of our teeth. It sits just below the outer, enamel layer and rests on the roots. Unlike the hard, outer layer of enamel, the layers beneath are very soft and sensitive.
When dentin comes into contact with extreme temperature or flavors, it is very reactive and the fluid inside experiences movement, which we explained earlier causes a sharp pain. This sensitivity is exacerbated by the fact that dentin doesn’t receive any stimulation on a regular basis, so when it is contacted, it feels much more potent.
#4. HOW DOES DENTIN BECOME EXPOSED?
Exposure of these lower layers can be caused by several factors including periodontal disease or receding gums. In fact, receding gums is a very common condition people reaching into their upper 60’s. Other than these natural causes, there are other factors that can contribute to the exposure of dentin.
Diets high in acidity can negatively impact tooth enamel as the acid begins eating away at the top layers of our teeth. Brushing too hard or with abrasive toothpaste can also chip away at these protective layers. Teeth grinding not only sounds nasty, but is a culprit in wearing down teeth as well.
The early stages of periodontal disease are what's known as gingivitis. The symptoms of gingivitis include red, swollen bleeding gums. At this stage, there tends to be little to no discomfort which is cause for concern as it can lead to more severe forms of periodontal disease such as periodontitis. It is very important to pay a visit to your dentist if you notice these symptoms so that it can be treated. Treatment may involve scaling and root planning which cleans by removing plaque and tartar around the tooth.
Periodontitis is the more severe form of periodontal disease. Without a proper cleaning, plaque can begin to spread below the gum line, which causes them to recede. What occurs next, is the formation of toxins that cause a breakdown of the tissue and bones that support the teeth. This in turn can lead to tooth loss and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Now you can see how important it is to catch that tartar and plaque in the early stages.
Diets high in acidity:
It may come as a surprise to you which foods are high in acidity. It seems obvious that food and drink such as alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and anything fried are high in acidity, but did you know that barley, soybean and sweetened yogurt are also highly acidic? Here is a chart of acidic and alkaline foods so that you can make a better choice for your sensitive teeth.
Brushing too hard or with abrasive toothpaste:
Brushing too hard is one of the main sensitive teeth causes. This can wear down the enamel on the teeth, which is why it's a good idea to use a soft brush using the proper techniques if you experience sensitivity and are trying to protect your enamel.
#5. CAN YOU RESTORE TOOTH ENAMEL?
The answer to this question is unfortunately no. Tooth enamel does not have living cells, which means it cannot repair itself. There is however, a way to both prevent erosion and treat the enamel through other means.
As I have already mentioned, avoiding a diet high in acidity can be a very effective way to reduce damage to tooth enamel, as well as avoiding brushing too hard. Keeping teeth clean with regular dental visits will help to prevent periodontal disease.
There are a couple of procedures aimed at treating eroded teeth. These procedures are tooth bonding and tooth crowns. For mild cases, tooth bonding involves applying a resin to the damaged areas, which will harden and be made to look like the rest of your teeth. Tooth crowns are basically caps over the damaged teeth and are meant for more severe cases.
#6. SENSITIVE TEETH DUE TO GRINDING - HOW DO YOU CONTROL THIS?
You may or may not have heard the term bruxism. Bruxism is a condition involving excessive teeth grinding. This may occur during the day or at night (sleep bruxism).
How can we control this if we perform this activity unconsciously? There are several ways we can keep teeth grinding in check:
A) Occlusal Splints
Also known as a mouth guard, splints that protect from the wear and tear of teeth grinding by preventing contact between the upper and lower teeth. Your dentist will decide how long and when they should be worn.
B) Self Help
Bringing an awareness to jaw clenching/tightening during the day can help you to relax those muscles and halt that action mid-grind.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Hypnotherapy may not work for everyone, but if you are at your wits end and are willing to try anything than you may want to give it a shot.
#7. WHY DO WE EXPERIENCE TEETH SENSITIVITY AFTER DENTAL WORK?
There are several dental procedures that can cause temporary tooth sensitivity. In all cases, it is best to speak to your dentist about your symptoms in case the problem requires further treatment. Here are a few of the common ones:
A) Sensitive Tooth After Filling:
In this case, the newly-filled tooth is sending pain signals to other teeth and should go away within 1 to 2 weeks.
B) Sensitive Teeth After Braces:
It is important to continue your daily oral care routine after getting braces, otherwise demineralization can occur. Food particles left too long can turn into acid, which can weaken the area or cause a cavity and then we experience sensitive teeth and gums. Sore teeth after braces being removed is caused by tooth enamel being newly exposed to the environment.
C) Sensitive Teeth After Cleaning:
It is highly common to experience sensitive teeth after deep cleaning at the dental office. When tartar has been removed from areas that are not covered in enamel, the surface becomes exposed and takes some time to adjust. The poking and prodding of dental instruments can also cause some temporary soreness.
D) Sensitive Tooth After Crown
A crown is a fixed prosthetic device cemented onto existing teeth. If that tooth still contains the nerve, then you may experience sensitivity to cold temporarily. However, if the crown is too high and you experience pain when you bite down, an adjustment may be necessary.
E) Sensitive Teeth After Extraction
In this case, your teeth simply need some time to heal after such a hefty procedure. It may be helpful to use a warm salt water rinse to reduce pain and swelling.
#8. IS SENSITIVE TEETH A SIGN OF EARLY PREGNANCY?
As if women aren't in enough pain and discomfort during pregnancy, some women have to add sensitive teeth to that long list of pregnancy symptoms. Some may encounter sensitive teeth in early pregnancy; others will battle it through all three trimesters.
So why is sensitive teeth during pregnancy so common? Hormones! Hormones are running wild during pregnancy. These wild hormones increase blood flow to the gum tissue, which in turn causes sore teeth and gums and possibly even bleeding of the gums.
If you've been pregnant before or are currently expecting, you may have noticed that plaque builds up easier on your teeth and they feel grimy. You may be brushing your teeth more often to reduce that build-up before it leads to gum disease. It is important to continue your daily oral care routine using products such as sensitive toothpaste, as well as eat nutritious foods for overall health.
This can extend into breastfeeding as well. Hormonal changes are still occurring at this time and in addition to that, the mother is transferring nutrients to the baby.
TIP: Try coconut oil pulling to aid in promoting healthy teeth and gums during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
#9. WHY DO I HAVE SENSITIVE TEETH AFTER QUITTING SMOKING?
I think we are well aware of the ill effects of smoking and chewing tobacco products. These products are used orally, so it is not surprising that smoking and chewing causes damage to our gums and throat. The message is out there and so is the help if needed. Places like No Butts have the tools and resources to help people quit smoking.
As for the sore teeth and gums after quitting smoking, this is due to old gum tissue forming a protective coating, a sort of defense mechanism if you will. Once you quit, new gum tissue will begin to grow in place of the old gum tissue. Being that it is new tissue, it will be much more sensitive and needs time to toughen up.
#10. WHAT ARE THE BEST WAYS TO DEAL WITH TEETH SENSITIVITY?
Dealing with tooth sensitivity can be approached from two different angles. It is a question of preventing future sensitivity while also repairing the damage that has been caused already. In order to best prevent future tooth sensitivity problems, we must first determine what is causing our problem in the first place. It is important to consider all possible factors that may be contributing to the issue.
Review your brushing regimen and make sure it is not too abrasive on your enamel. Additionally, ensure that your diet is not high in corrosive ingredients such as acid. It is possible that your tooth sensitivity may be caused by a natural condition rather than habits or diet. It is best to check with your doctor to explore possible explanations for sensitive teeth when brushing.
Treat the area. There are several treatments that work to help protect sensitive teeth and to reduce further exposure of more sensitive layers. The types of treatments you choose will depend largely upon the severity of your case. It is always crucial to speak with your dentist to determine the most appropriate treatments for your teeth. A majority of doctors will recommend home treatments to help decrease tooth sensitivity and strengthen teeth. There are sensitive toothpaste options which are designed to make teeth less sensitive. The inclusion of fluoride in these toothpastes also helps to prevent further tooth decay.
Sensitive Teeth Products. Along with this special sensitive toothpaste, doctors may also suggest using a softer brush. For more direct healing power, there are also fluoride gels and fluoride rinses. A sensitive teeth mouthwash can be a favorable addition to your morning oral care routine as it is quick and simple. Some treatments to help improve sensitive teeth can also be done at the dentist’s office. There are procedures that actually refill the holes and crevices where tooth enamel has eroded with resins and varnishes. See more products below.
#11. WHAT KINDS OF PRODUCTS ARE AVAILABLE TO HELP WITH TEETH SENSITIVITY?
Teeth Whitening Strips:
Sensitive Teeth After whitening. Anyone who experiences tooth sensitivity may think they need to completely avoid whitening strips because of that nasty sharp pain that results from using them. There is still a chance for you to whiten your smile, because there are sensitive teeth whitening strips designed especially for tooth sensitivity sufferers such as Crest 3D White Gentle Routine, among others.
Through my own experience, if you use the regular whitening strips enough the pain becomes more and more dull after each use. I won't lie though, the first time I used them I could hardly handle the pain! Thankfully I discovered the gentle routine strips.
Water Flossers or Oral Irrigators:
Have you ever tried using a water flosser rather than string floss for your gums? Some people find that string floss can be uncomfortable or cause their gums to bleed if they have sensitive teeth and gums.
Besides being more gentle on your gums, clinical studies have shown the Waterpik water flosser to be 51% more effective than string floss at reducing gingivitis, and 29% more effective at removing plaque. Now if you remember what I discussed with you about periodontal disease, than you may want to look at water flossers as an option to remove that plaque build-up that can lead to nasty things.
Besides strips and flossers, it would be wise to invest in a sensitive teeth toothpaste that includes ingredients such as potassium nitrate or strontium chloride.
A sensitive toothpaste that contains these ingredients such as Sensodyne, will work to block transmission of pain to the brain with potassium nitrate. The strontium chloride will re-cover the dentin tubules, preventing the nerves from receiving pain signals to begin with.
When experiencing tooth sensitivity, it is most important to stop what you are doing immediately. Whether you are in the middle of brushing your teeth or eating a meal, continuing that action will only exacerbate the pain.
During bouts of increased sensitivity, try your best to eat neutral, lukewarm foods. Avoid anything that is overly cold or hot and acidic. This may mean cooling down that much-loved hot morning java before you take a sip.
Review your brushing habits to determine if there is any damage being caused to your enamel. You can also try brushing slower and with less pressure. Tooth brushes are designed to clean teeth without having to apply too much force.
Don’t brush off tooth sensitivity as a common problem. Approach your doctor or dentist to try and determine the underlying causes and problems. It is better to take care of the issue early before it turns into a larger concern.
Tooth sensitivity is a very common occurrence. There are several factors, both naturally occurring and lifestyle-wise, that can contribute to the causes of this condition. Simply put, tooth sensitivity is experienced when the lower, less protected layers of our teeth are exposed to stimulation. When the protective layer of enamel is eroded or chipped away, these more sensitive layers become activated and overly reactive. This corrosion can be the result of pre-existing dental conditions or the consequences of poor dieting or abusive brushing techniques.
It is important to determine the primary factors contributing to your tooth sensitivity so the appropriate steps can be taken to improve your condition. Know the sensitive teeth causes outlined in this article so that further damage to the enamel can be prevented. Consulting a dentist or other qualified professional can be of great benefit to help narrow down the causes and pinpoint effective treatments.
Did you enjoy reading this list? As someone who deals with tooth sensitivity on a daily basis, I find it important to have all of the information available in one spot to better understand what's going on below the surface. I hope this article has achieved that.
Please comment and share this article if you found the information useful.
Aurora is the lead editor here at pearlywhytes.com. She is one of those people who actually likes going to the dentist. She loves to write about anything health related, but oral health is her most passionate topic. Her free time is spent partaking in family activities and experimenting in the kitchen.