Sensitivity is an essential characteristic of our emotional make-up, but as far as tooth traits go — it’s certifiably the worst. No one wants to be in pain while casually enjoying an impromptu ice cream in the heat of the summer or chewing through popcorn watching the latest episode of [addicting original series from an online streaming service]. But, one out of eight of us might be experiencing tooth sensitivity at any given time. It’s frustrating, painful and can sometimes feel hopeless. We’re getting down-and-nerdy into the details of tooth sensitivity, so your new sixth-sense can be knowing what it is, what causes it and how to best keep your teeth strong and feelin’ good. 💪
What Is Tooth Sensitivity?
Sensitivity, of course, means your teeth react to some other type of stimuli more than normal. It isn’t just a random toothache or pain, but the outcome of something else your mouth is being subjected to. The most common types of stimuli for tooth sensitivity are temperature, touch, biting or pain on percussion (that is — pain when hitting your tooth against another object). Some people even have sensitivity towards the type of foods they eat, specifically if they’re sugary, acidic or salty.
What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?
According to quip dentist Dr. Mitali Hariawala, a number of factors can cause tooth sensitivity.
If your enamel (the protective outer-layer of your teeth) is worn down, your teeth may become sensitive due to exposure of the second layer of your teeth called dentin. Things like brushing too hard, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, grinding or clenching your teeth, an overabundance of acidic foods in your diet or a general lack of care for your teeth can lead to worn down enamel. Gum recession, which may be caused by gum disease or by brushing incorrectly or too aggressively, can gradually expose a part of your tooth (the root) that doesn’t even have enamel to begin with — so your teeth will become more sensitive in that area.
Another cause of temporary tooth sensitivity, according to Dr. Hariawala, is whitening. Some whitening treatments can open up the tubules in your teeth, which are the tiny little tubes under your enamel in the dentin layer of your teeth that make your tooth vulnerable because outside stimuli can aggravate the nerve of the tooth.
But, in some cases, sensitivity can be a genetic factor. Thanks, mom and dad.
How Do You Treat Tooth Sensitivity?
The widely accepted form of treatment for tooth sensitivity is using a toothpaste that can help desensitize, and it’s important to ensure your toothpaste always has fluoride in it — even if desensitizing. But, this treatment doesn’t get to the core of the problem. Desensitizing toothpaste basically just acts as a pseudo-painkiller by temporarily blocking the pain signals to the nerve of your tooth by blocking up your tubules (basically closing the Subway tunnels that take the pain-train to your nerve). While this is a good short term solution for many, and a good long term solution for the cases in which sensitivity is may be genetic (it could be genetic if you’ve always had sensitive teeth since you were a kid), it shouldn’t be the only way you combat sensitivity.
For example, if you grind or clench your teeth at night, which can be diagnosed by your dentist during a check-up, then you should ask about getting a custom mouthguard. Other small changes like using a soft-bristled toothbrush that helps you brush gently with sensitive vibrations like quip , or paying attention to the foods your eat and your oral microbiome, can help, too.
Most importantly, if you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, it is likely a signal of an issue with your teeth and you should pop on the phone with your dental office to schedule a clinical evaluation. This will lead to healthier and less sensitive teeth down the line, and fully enjoyable ice creams in the park. Just remember to brush after. 😉