Dentin hypersensitivity, otherwise simply referred to as ‘sensitive teeth’ is a very common dental problem that accounts for about 1 in 5 of all dentist visits in Australia, according to research published in the Australian Dental Journal. It is characterised by a painful response when your teeth are exposed to certain stimuli, including acidic foods, cold air, some food textures and more. The pain can range in severity from a minor nuisance to chronic agony. For some people, dentin hypersensitivity might be contained to a single episode; for others, it’s an ongoing issue that can affect their overall quality of life.
Curious about what actually causes dentin hypersensitivity? We’ve rounded up six of the most common causes:
- Harsh Toothbrushes
Hopefully it goes without saying that regularly brushing your teeth is a critical part of dental health. However, using the wrong type of toothbrush and/or incorrect brushing is also one of the most common causes of sensitive teeth. The harsh bristles on some types of toothbrushes can damage the protective layer of enamel that covers your teeth, particularly if you apply excess pressure while brushing. Once the tooth enamel is chipped away, the dentin underneath is left exposed, which can result in sensitivity.
With this in mind, it’s vital that you follow some simple teeth brushing guidelines:
- Keep your brush at a 45 degree angle against your gum line while brushing
- Always use gentle strokes
- Take at least two minutes to brush your teeth
- Remember to brush hard-to-reach teeth
- Replace your toothbrush about once every three months, or sooner if it begins showing obvious signs of wear and tear such as splayed bristles
2. Cracked Teeth or Fillings
Over time, fillings can wear out, which often means there’s nothing sitting between the layer of dentin in your teeth and potentially painful stimuli. In many cases, this will lead to sensitive teeth. You may also experience dentin hypersensitivity if you have cracked or damaged teeth and are yet to get them fixed.
Fixing broken fillings and damaged teeth can alleviate your teeth sensitivity, but it’s important to note that doing so carries a range of additional benefits. For example, it can prevent bacteria entering holes in the enamel and getting into the nerves and roots, which can lead to a range of unpleasant infections.
3. Teeth Grinding
Teeth grinding is a widespread phenomenon that involves the involuntary grinding or clenching of the teeth. Approximately 1 in 20 people grind their teeth on a regular, ongoing basis. It’s thought that teeth grinding is linked to stress and anxiety, though the exact cause can vary between people. As you might imagine, excessive teeth grinding can wear away your tooth enamel and eventually lead to sensitive teeth.
Due to the fact that teeth grinding most commonly occurs at night, many people are not even aware that they do so. Treatment methods include stress management techniques and relaxation therapy, but for immediate results you might want to consider investing in a special mouthguard to wear at night to stop yourself inadvertently grinding and damaging your teeth in your sleep.
4. Excessive Acidic Food
Another leading cause of sensitive teeth in Australia is excessive consumption of acidic food and beverages. The acid found in orange juice, tomatoes, soft drinks, citrus fruit and some sports drinks are known to damage tooth enamel, which leaves the nerves more exposed and can cause sensitive teeth. You don’t necessarily have to avoid all acidic foods (in fact, doing so would be almost impossible), but it does highlight the need to for a balanced diet that’s healthy for all parts of your body – including your mouth and teeth. Regular brushing and flossing also play a key role in protecting your teeth against the effects of consuming acidic foods and beverages.
5. Receding Gums
Whether it’s the result of gum disease, teeth grinding or genetic tendencies, many people experience receding gums as they age. The protective layer of skin slowly pulls away from the teeth, leaving the roots of the teeth uncovered. The roots typically don’t have much enamel surrounding them, so they’re naturally more sensitive and susceptible to damage.
If you suspect that your gums are receding, have it checked out. As noted, receding gums are often a symptom of gum disease, which will need to be addressed to prevent further issues developing in the future.
6. Teeth Bleaching
Teeth bleaching treatments are becoming increasingly popular as people seek out an easy way to improve the look of their teeth. While it can help you on your way to an award winning smile, some of the chemicals involved can be harsh on your teeth and irritate your gums, which may increase sensitivity in the days following the bleaching. Thankfully, sensitivity caused by teeth bleaching is usually temporary and fades away within a few days. If pain persists, be sure to talk to your dentist.