Tooth sensitivity can be both painful and alarming. It can start out of nowhere or may be something that has slowly gotten worse over time. If you are among the 10-15% of Canadians who regularly experience tooth sensitivity, you should talk to your dentist. There can often be surprising causes and treatment options are widely available.
Tooth sensitivity is pain or discomfort in the teeth that happens as a response to certain stimuli, such as hot or cold temperatures. It may be temporary or can become a chronic problem, and it can affect one tooth in particular or all of your teeth.
One underlying cause of sensitive teeth that can be overlooked at times is grinding or clenching. When you grind or clench your teeth, it wears down your enamel and over time, can create access to the nerves which will result in increased sensitivity.
Many people unconsciously grind and clench their teeth, especially while they sleep. This means you may not know that you are contributing to your teeth sensitivity in this way. Did you know, just 2.5 nights of grinding and clenching can put as much force on your teeth as an entire year of chewing! Your dentist can help you to determine if you are grinding and clenching your teeth in your sleep and how it is affecting your teeth.
There can be multiple reasons why you might be grinding or clenching your teeth including stress, anxiety, anger, frustration or tension, depression and sleep disorders. Misalignment of the upper and lower jaw, crowded or tilted teeth can also lead to grinding or clenching. It can also be related to heavy consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
If grinding and clenching are causing tooth sensitivity for you, your dentist will recommend options to treat the sensitivity in the short term, but will also want to help you to address the root cause of the grinding so you can alleviate the root cause as well. Not to mention grinding and clenching can lead to other concerns with your teeth and jaw so you will want to resolve it before it can cause any additional concerns as well.
Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and various other calming techniques can be used to help address stress, anxiety and sleep to resolve the grinding and clenching if that is the cause. Your dentist may also make recommendations such as orthodontics or surgery to correct misalignment. You may also want to consider reducing your consumption of caffeine or alcohol if there are no other underlying causes for the clenching and grinding.
The good news is that any tooth sensitivity you are experiencing can be treated and should go away when the contributing factors are reduced or removed. Here are some common treatments for sensitive teeth:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. After using it several times, desensitizing toothpaste can help to block the pain associated with sensitive teeth. There are a variety of products available over-the-counter and from your dental clinic. Ask your dentist which product might work best for you.
- Fluoride. Your dentist might apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to help strengthen tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity pain. They may also suggest the use of prescription fluoride at home, applied using a custom tray.
- Salt rinse. Salt is an effective antiseptic and it can also help to reduce inflammation. To alleviate pain symptoms from sensitive teeth, gargle with a salt water rinse twice daily.
- Dental bonding or fillings. Occasionally, exposed root surfaces can be treated by applying bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces.
- Surgical gum graft. If your tooth root has lost gum tissue, a small amount can be taken from elsewhere in your mouth and attached to the affected area. This can protect exposed roots and reduce sensitivity.
- Root canal. If your sensitive teeth cause severe pain and other treatments aren’t effective, your dentist might recommend a root canal — a procedure used to treat problems in the tooth’s soft core (dental pulp). While this might seem like a significant treatment, it’s considered the most successful technique for eliminating tooth sensitivity.
- Nightguard. A dental nightguard will also be recommended to protect the teeth during sleeping hours.
There are many options to treat your tooth sensitivity depending on the cause and severity of it. Your dentist can help you to determine these factors and recommend the right treatment protocol for you.
If your sensitivity is caused by grinding or clenching, a mouthguard can help to protect your teeth from further damage while you address the underlying cause.
You don’t have to continue to suffer from the pain of tooth sensitivity. Talk to your dentist today!