It’s almost the holiday season, which means lots of hot holiday drinks. If you avoid eating cold foods or drinking hot beverages because your teeth are sensitive, it may be time to get to the bottom of this painful condition. So what causes sensitive teeth? Any number of underlying dental problems, and a diagnosis starts with your dentist.
When it comes to your mouth, two of the main cogs in the engine are the gums and teeth. It’s easy to take the necessary functions they perform for granted – that is, until your mouth is in pain. Whether you have sensitive gums or sensitive teeth, either is a recipe for oral discomfort. Here are the differences between the two and some ways to alleviate the pain.
Gum sensitivity is exactly what it sounds like – some form of irritation originating from the gums. If you think your gums are sensitive, look for some very specific symptoms to be sure: Gum sensitivity can result from gingivitis, the initial stage of gum disease. Some of the signs of gingivitis are swollen and tender gums, those that easily bleed and elicit bad breath. As gingivitis progresses into advanced gum disease, receding gums is another condition to watch for.
Gum sensitivity resulting from gingivitis or periodontal disease is typically caused by poor oral hygiene. Plaque is the main culprit of this sensitivity as it builds up along the gumline and, if left untreated, can progress to advanced gum disease. Additional causes include diabetes, tobacco use, crooked teeth and even pregnancy.
Tooth sensitivity has a few common symptoms of its own. You may find yourself wincing when brushing or flossing certain teeth, tooth pain when eating or drinking something cold or even the same feeling when consuming something hot, acidic or sweet.
Tooth sensitivity has many smaller dental causes, some of which are similar to gum pain, as observed by the ADA: cavities and tooth fractures, receding gums, worn tooth enamel, exposed tooth dentin, loose fillings and, lastly, gum disease. Grinding your teeth, or brushing them with too much force, are two additional actions that create sensitivity in your teeth. The overuse of mouthwash or even a cracked tooth may also expose nerves that yield irritation.
Preliminary Dental Treatment
Having a conversation with your dentist is the first step in finding relief from your discomfort. Describe your symptoms, tell your dentist when the pain started and let him or her know if there’s anything that normally makes it feel better, such as warm compresses.
After your dentist determines the reason for your sensitivity, he or she will treat the underlying cause. Treatment may be as simple as fixing a cavity or replacing a worn filling. However, if your discomfort comes from gum loss exposing root surfaces, your dentist may suggest a gum graft that a periodontist would conduct to protect the root surface and support of the tooth.
Even in situations where there is no obvious cause for your pain, there are numerous treatments to help you manage the sensitivity. Your dentist can apply an in-office fluoride gel to strengthen the tooth enamel and reduce painful sensations, while over-the-counter desensitizing toothpastes can block off the nerve endings in the exposed dentin. Toothpastes for sensitive teeth should be used on a regular basis, for best results that you can notice in as little as two weeks. Your dentist may also suggest that you rub some of the toothpaste directly on the affected areas after toothbrushing.
So if you’ve been suffering with painful sensitivity that keeps you from eating the foods you love, make an appointment with your dentist today – and you may be drinking hot chocolate tomorrow.