Tooth sensitivity can occur from drinking a cold beverage or when biting into a hot food. But how do you know when it's normal and when it should concern you? For starters, some people do just have sensitive teeth, but extreme tooth sensitivity is usually a sign of a problem deeper within your gumline.
What Causes Extreme Sensitivity?
You may have experienced an occasional twinge of pain from eating ice cream or breathing in cold air, but it can intensify if it turns chronic or sensitive to a wider range of sensations. Similarly, if one area of your mouth is more sensitive than others – throbbing after each sip of hot tea or bite of food – it's time to see your dentist.
When enamel wears down, according to Mayo Clinic, your tooth's more sensitive dentin becomes exposed. And numerous activities, from brushing too hard, to eating acidic foods to excessive whitening, can erode this enamel and eventually expose the pulp underneath. This leads more severe pain if left untreated.
How to Tell If Your Sensitivity Is Normal
Some people are genetically predisposed to thinner enamel. Two conditions, known as "amelogenesis imperfecta" and "dentinogensis imperfecta," can cause tooth enamel or dentin to grow in this way, resulting in higher tooth sensitivity as explained by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD). Other conditions, such as poorly treated diabetes, can increase the likelihood of gum infection as well – leading to extreme sensitivity. Pregnancy is also a time when the chances of gum disease rise, resulting in poorly protected roots.
But although these predispositions can result in oral irritation, tooth sensitivity of any kind should not be ignored or chalked up as simply normal.
Whether your teeth are somewhat sensitive or "10" on a clinical pain scale, there are ways to treat the problem so that it may decrease in intensity and likelihood. First, make an appointment with your dentist if you notice ongoing sensitivity, and stay committed to regular cleanings and checkups; these are important preventative steps to take toward keeping your teeth and mouth healthy. Along the way, these steps can bring relief, too:
- Mineralizing toothpastes are a good way to curb sensitivity by taking a protective approach to your discomfort. Mineralization refers to the state of your enamel, and strengthening it lowers the chance of tooth sensitivity. Colgate® Sensitive Prevent & Repair™, for instance, is a gentle, effective toothpaste that can significantly remineralize root caries and clean plaque at the same time.
- A visit to the dentist doesn't just include fluoride gel; it can also necessitate a basic procedure like a filling or crown, which can ease your discomfort by protecting weak spots in your teeth you didn't realize were there.
- Depending on the nature of your sensitivity, the dentist may recommend a more intensive procedure, such as a root canal or surgical gum graft to cover the root more permanently.
Extreme tooth sensitivity is no doubt painful, but even though it can hamper your quality of life, it's best to catch the problem before it grows beyond your control. Making certain lifestyle changes, like cutting back on sugary food (which can eat away at your enamel over time), is something you can start right now. Of course, drinking water throughout the day cleanses your mouth of bacteria that can cause plaque buildup if left to thrive. So, instead of waiting for that first twinge of tooth sensitivity to subside, take it as a reason to be proactive, and follows these steps to a more resilient mouth.