Summertime means ice cold watermelon and 4th of July ice cream. Cold foods can make us more aware of tooth sensitivity. Sometimes this is a minor inconvenience, and can be prevented by changes in diet. If it becomes annoying, there are steps you can take at home (for example, changing your toothpaste) that may help. If your tooth sensitivity has come on suddenly, contact your dentist for an appointment. If problems are detected early, it may be possible to save a tooth. A dental implant or dental bridge can maintain correct tooth alignment, when a tooth must be replaced.
Why Teeth Are Sensitive
The outer layer of each tooth is a hard shell of enamal, without nerve endings. Beneath this shell is the dentin layer, which is somewhat sensitive. At the heart of the tooth is the pulp, and this area does have nerve endings. Factors that may increase your reaction to heat and cold against a tooth include:
- Brushing too vigorously, which exposes the more sensitive root area of a tooth
- Receding gums (which also expose the root)
- Eating or drinking acidic foods (which may thin enamel)
- Bruxism (tooth grinding) (which can damage tooth enamel)
- The early stages of a cavity (which is a hole in the enamel layer)
What About Toothpastes for Sensitive Teeth?
Some people have good results with specially formulated toothpastes, if they are used regularly. Chemicals in these toothpastes help reinforce thinned enamel, and can even fill in microscopic breaks. Since different toothpastes have different formulations (usually compounds of potassium nitrate or strontium chloride) you may need to try several brands. Most take several weeks to provide a change, and must be used regularly to maintain the protections.
If toothpastes do not give relief, or if the sensitivity has come on suddenly, an office visit is in order. Your dentist can look for an underlying cause of the sensitivity. Perhaps there is an early cavity that needs attention. Microscopic fractures from tooth grinding are a potential source of sensitivity. You can also get help to fine-tune your brushing habits, if over brushing is a problem. We don’t want sensitive teeth to keep you from enjoy cool treats this summer!