What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Teeth become sensitive when one the dentin–an inner layer of your teeth–is exposed due to receding gums. Your tooth roots are not protected by the hard enamel of your teeth above the gumline, so when the gums recede, the thousands of tiny tubules in the roots that lead to the tooth pulp (the nerve) are exposed to the elements. As a result, when eating hot, cold, and sweet foods, these stimuli reach the pulp and cause a bit of pain.

More people are plagued with sensitive teeth than they realize, and many who are aware have no idea that some of their habits cause this affliction. There are several factors that lead to sensitive teeth, and most can easily be avoided to prevent sensitive teeth or worsening sensitive teeth.

  • Brushing too hard. As kids, many of us were told that we aren’t brushing hard enough. Unfortunately, brushing too hard can wear down enamel and erode the gumline.
  • Tooth decay near the gums.
  • Gum disease. Periodontal diseases such as gingivitis cause the gums to recede, thereby exposing the dentin of the roots.
  • Cracked or chipped teeth. Broken teeth can fill with bacteria from typical mouth plaque, which allows the bacteria an open pathway to attacking and inflaming the pulp.
  • Teeth grinding. You don’t have to have full-blown TMJ to damage your teeth. Even minor grinding of the teeth can wear down the enamel and expose dentin.
  • Plaque build-up. Excess plaque along the gumline can cause gum recession and allow for plaque to reside on the tooth roots.
  • Acidic and sweet foods. Regular consumption of acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, pickles, and tomatoes, and overly sugary foods can wear down your enamel and cause sensitivity, and it can also worsen your sensitivity.
  • Your age. Sensitive teeth is often the highest between the ages of 25 and 30.
  • Prolonged mouthwash use. Some mouthwashes that are available at any store have a high acid content and can worsen teeth sensitivity. Using mouthwashes daily and for long term can actually cause sensitivity as well.
  • Using teeth whitening products. Whitening your teeth yourself, with either home whitening kits or tooth whitening toothpaste, can cause sensitive teeth. If you already have sensitive teeth, whitening toothpastes will worsen your condition, even whitening toothpastes for sensitive teeth. Toothpastes with baking soda and peroxide can cause it as well, even those specially made for sensitive teeth.

Next week, we’ll discuss how to treat sensitive teeth. However, if you think you have sensitive teeth, talk to your dentist as soon as possible about the severity of your sensitivity and treatment options.

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