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Feeling a little sensitive? 20-10-2016

It might be a spoonful of ice cream straight from the freezer, or perhaps a hot drink: many of us suffer from the discomfort of sensitive teeth from time to time. Symptoms can vary from being mild and short-lived to causing much more severe pain that lasts for several hours. But why do we get sensitive teeth, and what can we do to ease the discomfort?

Our teeth are covered by a layer of enamel. Underneath the enamel is the softer dentine part of the tooth. If, for some reason, the enamel is worn away or missing, then the dentine is exposed. When this happens, the tooth can become sensitive. At the point where the tooth and the gum meet the enamel is much thinner, and this can be a particularly risky area for it to become worn down.

There are many factors than can lead to sensitivity:

  • Brushing your teeth too hard (particularly using a side to side motion). This can lead to dentine becoming exposed as the enamel is worn away
  • Loss of tooth enamel due to acidic food and drinks attacking the teeth
  • Shrinking back of gums: this can lead to the roots of the teeth becoming exposed. Roots do not have the protective enamel layer
  • Building up of plaque or tartar causing gum recession
  • Grinding teeth causing the enamel to be worn away
  • Cracked teeth or fillings meaning areas of the teeth not covered by enamel are exposed

If you have sensitive teeth there are steps you can take at home. There are several brands of toothpaste available in the supermarkets that can help to ease the discomfort. As well as brushing with these toothpastes, you can also rub the paste onto sensitive areas. Although these toothpastes may take a few days or weeks to take effect, they may help. Your dental team can advise about which paste to choose.

You might find that certain foods or drinks make your teeth feel more sensitive. Hot or cold drinks and foods, or items that are particularly sweet or acidic can bring on sensitivity. It’s worth thinking about changes you can make to your diet to reduce exposure to these types of items. If using cold water to brush your teeth is causing discomfort, you’ll need to use warm water instead. It’s important to keep brushing your teeth.

If you have tried treating your sensitive teeth at home for a few weeks and have not noticed any improvements, then you should book an appointment to see your dentist. They will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and plan how to treat your sensitivity. There are numerous products available that can help to desensitise your teeth and your dentist will be able to recommend the best product for you.

In terms of preventing sensitive teeth, maintaining a regular oral hygiene routine is key. Brush your teeth last thing at night, and at least one other time each day. Use small circular movements. Ensure you change your toothbrush every two to three months. Avoid sugary or acidic foods and drinks, or try to reduce your consumption. If you grind your teeth, have a chat to your dentist about getting a mouth guard made to wear at night. Finally, ensure you visit your dentist regularly in line with their recommendations.

Sensitive teeth can cause much discomfort and pain, and can affect all of us. However, by taking preventative steps, you can reduce the likelihood of being affected. If you continue to suffer, there are lots of treatments available, both in terms of treating yourself at home, or with the support of your dentist.

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