Brushing with the right toothpaste makes your teeth healthier over the long term, but the best toothpaste for sensitive teeth can relieve your discomfort within two weeks.
Teeth become sensitive when their pulp has little to no protection from temperature changes in the mouth, typically brought on by certain foods. Teeth contain a soft, nerve-filled center, and a layer of dentin covers the pulp that exists at this level. Over the dentin lies enamel, which covers teeth above the gum; and cementum, which coats your tooth roots below the crown. Here's what to look for to protect these important surfaces:
Enamel and cementum protect the inner tooth, but when they erode or break down, the nerves in the pulp become vulnerable. Some people have the misfortune of naturally thin tooth enamel. Nonetheless, hot, cold, sweet and acidic foods all stimulate the nerves through tubules in dentin that connect to the tooth's surface, causing the pain you might know all too well.
Some causes of eroded or broken-down enamel include decay, brushing aggressively, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, consuming highly acidic foods or beverages, tooth-grinding at night, receding gums and even some dental procedures such as bleaching – though this effect is temporary. For this reason, the best toothpaste for sensitive teeth actually strengthens the enamel and contains ingredients that protect the nerves hot and cold foods often irritate. Depending on the cause of your sensitivity, however, brushing regularly with a toothpaste that's gentle on sensitive teeth might be all the treatment you need.
Potassium nitrate is one special compound in toothpaste for sensitive teeth that doesn't occur in regular toothpaste. This ingredient blocks pathways from the tooth surface to the inner pulp, protecting the tooth's nerves and, according to Dr. Van B. Haywood, DMD, effectively desensitizing them to reduce discomfort. It can take a month to notice an effect with some sensitivity toothpastes, but when brushing with a toothpaste which contains potassium nitrate – you may notice a difference in just two weeks.
The best toothpaste for sensitive teeth should also contain fluoride, which strengthens weak or eroded enamel and helps to prevent early signs of decay from progressing. And although many over-the-counter toothpastes contain fluoride, your dentist can prescribe high-strength fluoride toothpastes to treat tooth sensitivity in particular. Many gel-form products, for example, contain a small percentage of stannous fluoride. Still others contain a dose of sodium fluoride, and both can be prescribed by dentists to help relieve tooth discomfort.
Caring for Sensitive Teeth
If your sensitive teeth are the result of one or more cavities, only a dentist can fix the problem – but you can help treat other causes of tooth sensitivity at home by brushing regularly with a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. You may not be willing to brush sensitive teeth due to the initial discomfort, but over the long term, doing so twice a day with the right toothpaste will reduce your sensitivity. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush, and don't brush too hard. Your dentist may recommend other treatments such as scaling or gum grafts if the condition continues.
When there are toothpastes and other treatments available for a sensitive mouth, there's no need to live with discomfort. In as little as two weeks, you'll be back eating and drinking the foods and beverages you enjoy.