Is eating ice cream or sipping hot coffee painful? Do brushing and flossing cause a zing? If you feel pain or tingling, then you may have sensitive teeth.(6) At least 45 million Americans suffer from sensitive teeth; one-in-five adults suffers from sensitive teeth.(2) Tooth sensitivity is highest between the ages of 25 and 30 years.(3)
The Science of Sensitive Teeth
A layer of hard enamel protects the crowns of your teeth. A layer of cementum protects the tooth root under the gum line. Gum tissue is a protective blanket that covers the tooth roots. Underneath the hard enamel, or cementum, is the porous dentin which is made up of tiny openings called tubules or channels. Inside each tubule lies a nerve that comes from the tooth's pulp (the mass of blood vessels and nerves in the center of the tooth).(4)(5)When the dentin loses its protective covering and is exposed, it may cause hypersensitivity and discomfort when you drink cold or hot liquids, eat sweet or sour foods, or when you breathe through your mouth. Even brushing and flossing can be painful. (4)(5)The nerves inside the tooth get stimulated causing everything from discomfort to a sharp, sudden, shooting pain deep into the nerve endings of your teeth.(3)Some of the causes of tooth crown disintegration include tooth decay, a cracked tooth, a chipped tooth, or a broken tooth; damaged teeth may fill with bacteria, entering the pulp and causing inflammation. Fillings can wear down, break, crack, or leak. Tooth enamel can be worn down or abraded and the dentin exposed by brushing too hard, brushing with a hard-bristled toothbrush, grinding or clenching your teeth, regularly consuming foods and beverages with high acid content (citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, tea)(3)(4), or by sucking on hard candy. (1) Enamel can also erode with age.(6)The sensitive tooth roots can also become exposed. Periodontal disease is an infection of the gums and bone that support the teeth. It can progress and destroy the bone and other tooth-supporting tissues, exposing the teeth roots. (5) Tooth roots can become exposed by aggressive brushing, incorrect brushing, or using a hard-bristled toothbrush.(3) Gum recession can occur due to age. (1) Chewing tobacco, or snuff, causes the gums to recede.
Other Causes of Sensitive Teeth
Believe it or not, even caring for your teeth can cause sensitivity. Sensitivity can occur after dental work, however it is temporary and usually disappears in four to six weeks.(3)A study appearing in General Dentistry, a clinical peer-reviewed journal, found that people with sensitivities to special senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) also have sensitive teeth. (2)