If your teeth seem especially sensitive after you brush them or when you consume certain foods or beverages, you’re hardly alone: By one estimate, around 35 percent of the U.S. population experiences some degree of tooth sensitivity. While the difference between sensitivity and pain may be somewhat blurry, we can say that sensitive teeth usually produce discomfort in response to a stimulus like temperature, pressure, or even the sweetness of particular foods. What causes tooth sensitivity — and what should you do about it?
Tooth Anatomy 101
Dentin is a sturdy, calcified tissue, that can’t usually be seen. It’s normally covered by super-hard enamel on the visible part of the tooth (the crown), and by softer tissue called cementum on the tooth’s roots (which typically lie below the gum line). The dentin itself is composed of many tiny tubules. When these tubules become exposed to the environment of the mouth, tooth sensitivity and pain may result.
Dealing With Tooth Sensitivity
What can you do about sensitive teeth? If it’s a relatively minor irritation, try not to brush the affected teeth too long or hard. Make sure you’re using a soft-bristled brush and the proper, gentle brushing technique. Always use a toothpaste containing fluoride, as this ingredient is proven to increase the strength of tooth enamel, which helps resist erosion. You can also try a toothpaste with ingredients designed especially for sensitive teeth, such as potassium. Studies show that these can be effective… but it may take approximately 4 – 6 weeks for you to notice the difference.
If sensitivity persists, however — or if your tooth pain becomes more intense — don’t wait to get an examination to determine what’s causing the problem. Once diagnosed, the most appropriate way to reduce the sensitivity will be recommended. Some treatments may include concentrated fluoride varnishes, prescription mouthrinses, or materials that are bonded to the outer surfaces of teeth. But tooth sensitivity may also be an early warning sign of other dental problems — and the sooner they’re taken care of, the better off you’ll be!