a young women is experiencing tooth nerve pain when she is drinking coffee

How Tooth Nerve Pain Occurs

Aggravated tooth pain can come in many different shapes and sizes – a dull ache, a prolonged throbbing sensation, and even a sharp pain that overwhelms you in an instant. But for those familiar with tooth nerve pain, you know the sensation all too well.

Although tooth nerve pain isn't fun, it's something almost everyone has experienced. Whether it's from a cavity or a cracked tooth, aggravating the tooth's nerve is a common path to the pain you feel.

Anatomy of Tooth Nerve Pain

Each tooth is composed of four parts: enamel, cementum, dentin, and pulp.

  • Enamel is the strong outermost substance on the tooth. Its purpose is to protect the tooth's crown.
  • Cementum is the next layer, which protects a tooth's root below the gumline.
  • Dentin comes next, although it's not as dense as your enamel or cementum. Contained within the dentin are microscopic tubules, all of which connect to the tooth's pulp.
  • The pulp houses a tooth's nerves, so when the dentin has worn away, certain foods and drinks can reach the nerves via the tubules, resulting in tooth sensitivity.

How the Nerve Becomes Exposed

The nerves inside the pulp of our teeth are very sensitive and can become exposed to the foods and drinks that we consume. Some of these foods and drinks can produce a painful response. Most commonly, these can be cold, hot, and sweet foods and drinks. When these nerves lose their protective coating, they can even become sensitive to brushing and movement. Here are some causes of tooth nerve pain:

  • Cracked Teeth: You may be experiencing a cracked tooth if you feel pain when chewing. These cracks can allow sugars to reach your nerve as well as changes in temperature.
  • Gum Disease: As gums recede, they allow hot and cold foods and drinks to affect the nerves in your teeth.
  • Tobacco Use: Smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco can damage teeth and gums, leading to tooth sensitivity.
  • Tooth Grinding: People who suffer from grinding teeth (known as bruxism) often grind their teeth while sleeping. This can lead to damaged tooth enamel and increased tooth sensitivity.
  • Sugary Foods: Cavities (known as dental caries) are damaged openings in the hard surface of your teeth. Sugar is a contributing factor to the formation of cavities, leading to an increased risk of tooth nerve pain.
  • Poor Oral Hygiene: Improper brushing and flossing can lead to tooth cavities and gum problems. Proper oral hygiene can go a long way in preventing the formation of tooth nerve pain.

Foods to Avoid

Identifying which foods are the culprits of your pain allows you to focus on what you should consume to mitigate the irritation. The most common types of foods associated with nerve pain are hot and cold, sugary and sweet, and acidic and sour. Remember that drinks fall into these categories as well. Ice water, coffee, tea, and soft drinks can all make you wince in pain if your tooth's nerve becomes exposed. Keep in mind that anything with a high sugar content, such as desserts, soft drinks and sports drinks, can contribute to enamel erosion as well. Regardless of the food or drink triggers, it is essential to visit your dentist to get a diagnosis of the source of the pain and find out how to resolve it.

As with similar mouth conditions, tooth nerve pain can be avoided through good oral care. The foundation for a healthy mouth starts with brushing at least twice a day. Don't forget to floss daily, either. Keep in mind that regular dental check-ups are another crucial component. Your dentist serves as a good resource to recognise any budding tooth issues and to confirm that your oral care efforts are working.