Tooth sensitivity is something most people are likely to experience at some point in their lives. Whether the tooth is sensitive to hot, cold or biting, it can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. 

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

There are several potential causes of tooth sensitivity. Some are easily treated, whilst others may require more complex and ongoing care.

Toothbrush Abrasion

Something that can be treated reasonably simply is toothbrush abrasion. This occurs when a person scrubs their teeth too vigorously, especially with a hard or medium toothbrush. Over time, this can cause the gums to shrink and the protective layer of enamel to be abraded away, causing sensitivity in the affected teeth due to exposure of dentine.

Acid-Induced Sensitivity

Increasingly more prevalent in Australia is the issue of acid-induced sensitivity, which may come from a number of sources.

Why Acids Are a Threat to Tooth Enamel

In a healthy tooth, a layer of enamel covers the entire part of the tooth that appears above the gum. Tooth enamel is a mineralised structure with no nerve endings in it. Being a mineral, the enamel will dissolve under the influence of acids. Fortunately, we don’t tend to encounter very strong acids in our daily life. However, there are two very important sources of organic acids to be aware of:

  • dietary acids
  • stomach acids.

Dietary Acids

An abundant source of dietary acid is acidic drinks: soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks. Frequent consumption of these erodes tooth enamel. Over time, the enamel becomes thinner and gradually exposes the part of the tooth that contains nerve endings. This part of the tooth is made up of another hard substance called dentine. As dentine erodes, the fine nerve endings are exposed, often leading to significant sensitivity.

Stomach Acids

Another source of acid that can erode the teeth comes from the stomach. People who experience reflux are at risk of developing tooth sensitivity. Additionally, pregnant women, as well as people who are living with bulimia are at risk.

Sometimes patients wake up in the morning with a sour taste in their mouth. They may not realise that this may be acid reflux which can cause dental issues such as tooth sensitivity. In cases such as these, the dentist may refer the patient back to their GP for assessment and if required, management of their gastric reflux (often known as heartburn).

Gum Recession Can Lead to Sensitive Teeth

If a patient has gum disease or any other condition that causes gum recession, exposure of the dentine at the neck of the tooth can lead to sensitivity. Teeth might become quite sensitive to cold foods, but can also be stirred up by hot and sweet foods. 

Gum disease is a silent disease and people often do not know they have it until they are told by a dentist. Regular dental check-ups ensure that early stages of gum disease can be diagnosed and managed.

More Concerning Reasons for Tooth Sensitivity

Other causes of tooth sensitivity include

  • Cracked tooth
  • Tooth decay
  • Leaky filling

Treating Tooth Sensitivity

First, a Diagnosis…

Since there are many causes of tooth sensitivity, there are many treatments that might be recommended. It is therefore critical that an accurate diagnosis is made. 

Dr Teo will ask you a number of questions to diagnose the cause of the sensitivity. You may be asked: 

  • What triggers the sensitivity?
  • How intense is the discomfort?
  • How long does it last?
  • What, if anything, relieves it? 

A thorough inspection of your mouth, teeth and gums will follow. Dr Teo may also recommend radiographs (dental x-rays) to look even deeper.

…Then, the Treatment

Treatment may include:

  • the application of desensitising agents
  • changing the way you brush
  • using a softer toothbrush
  • management of night-time tooth grinding
  • treatment of gum disease
  • placement of a filling to treat dental decay
  • placement of a crown to manage a cracked tooth
  • root canal treatment to treat an infected tooth, or
  • extraction  (in the case of a deeply cracked tooth)

What About Sensitive Toothpaste?

People may sometimes treat sensitivity by using a desensitising toothpaste bought over the counter or at supermarkets. 

However, if the discomfort does not improve relatively quickly (within two weeks of use is a good indicator), the cause of the sensitivity could be more sinister. We recommend that you make an appointment so that the cause can be diagnosed and managed appropriately. 

Preventing Sensitive Teeth

Our focus is on the prevention of tooth-related discomfort and dental disease. If you are at risk of experiencing tooth sensitivity or have previously experienced it, we’ll work with you to prevent it.

If You Experience Sensitive Teeth, We Are Here to Help

If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, please feel free to contact us to make an appointment.