What causes tooth sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity occurs when the underlying layer of your teeth -- the dentin -- becomes exposed as a result of receding gum tissue (the protective blanket that covers the tooth roots). The roots, which are not covered by hard enamel, contain thousands of tiny tubules leading to the tooth’s never center (the pulp). These dentinal tubules (or channels) allow the stimuli -- for example, the hot, cold, or sweet food -- to reach the nerve in your tooth, which results in the pain you feel.
There are many factors that may lead to the development of tooth sensitivity, including:
- Brushing too hard: Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed. It can also cause recession of the gums (the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth).
- Recession of the gums: As gums move away from a tooth because of conditions such as periodontal disease, the root surface becomes exposed.
- Gum disease: Inflamed and sore gum tissue may cause sensitivity because of the loss of supporting ligaments, which exposes the root surface that leads directly to the nerve of the tooth.
- Cracked teeth: Chipped or broken teeth may fill with bacteria from plaque and enter the pulp, causing inflammation.
- Teeth grinding: grinding or clenching your teeth may wear down the enamel and expose underlying dentin.
- Tooth whitening products or toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide: These products are major contributors to tooth sensitivity.
- Age: Tooth sensitivity is highest between the ages of 25 and 30.
- Plaque buildup: The presence of plaque on the root surfaces can cause sensitivity.
- Mouthwash use: Long-term use of some mouthwashes. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids that can worsen tooth sensitivity if you have exposed dentin (the middle layer of the tooth). The acids further damage the dentin layer of the tooth. If you have dentin sensitivity, ask your dentist about the use of a neutral fluoride solution.
- Acidic foods: Regular consumption of foods with a high acid content, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea, can cause enamel erosion.
- Recent routine dental procedures: Sensitivity can occur following teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and tooth restoration. Sensitivity caused by dental procedures is temporary and usually disappears in 4 to 6 weeks.