Millions of people in the US alone suffer from dental sensitivity and toothaches, making them some of the most commonly addressed issues by dentists. Which means you’re not alone when you take a sip of your beloved iced dark roast with almond milk and two sugars and the cold drink jabs you with a pang of pain. Nor are you alone when you wake up in the morning and it feels like a tiny construction crew has been jackhammering away at one of your teeth during the night.
Dental Sensitivity Decoded
To begin, let us briefly dive into a dizzying discourse on oral biology: Dental sensitivity is caused by the movement of fluid within the tiny tubes located in the exposed dentin (dentin is the porous layer of tissue found inside of the hard exterior enamel of our teeth.). As a result of this exposure, which isn’t good of course, the nerves within become irritated and, subsequently, you feel pain after biting into your ice cream sandwich. So, let’s break that down.
Your teeth are covered by enamel, the hardened outer layer of your teeth that acts as a protectant against plaque and acids.
When your enamel has become compromised, or your gums recede (either creates exposure), the dentin and the tiny tube surfaces beneath are exposed, meaning that everything from cold temperatures outside to the hotness and coldness of the foods you eat now has the power to cause pain.
Which means that it’s highly important to prevent enamel from eroding (enamel is one of the rare things that our body does not make more of: what you have is what you’ve got for life). Great dental hygiene is your best weapon in keeping your enamel safe—brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash with fluoride.
But what other factors work against our teeth and promote a toothache?
Acidic foods – Highly acidic foods wear away at our enamel, which includes citrus fruits, tea, coffee, and soda.
Harmful Toothpaste – Your toothpaste could be waging war in your mouth. Heavy chemicals and tooth-whitening formulas can sometimes do damage under the guise of being beneficial.
- Fluoride and certain brands of toothpaste can aid in strengthening enamel only if the enamel is not already too damaged.
Clenching or grinding teeth – I had a habit of grinding my teeth years ago. A new dentist I visited took one look at my mouth and knew immediately what I had been up to. Teeth grinding also contributes to sensitivity and can be tied to our mental state of mind (perhaps we’re stressed, angry, etc.). Had a terrible meeting at work today? You may manifest that stress in grinding your teeth while you’re sleeping. Experts suggest working out those issues beforehand, and, if all else fails, throw in a mouthguard.
Overbrushing or excessive brushing – Toss out any hard bristle toothbrushes you’ve been using and opt for a softer brush. Hard toothbrushes will give you the clean you need, but they can also wear down enamel and contribute to furthering your sensitivity issues. Remember that you should only be brushing two times a day, three if you’ve eaten something less than ideal.
Powerful mouthwash – Mouthwashes can contain a plethora of harsh chemicals that are both hard to pronounce and hard on your teeth. In any event, look for milder brands what won’t make your teeth more sensitive.
Damaging foods – Gnawing on ice or hard candy will strip away precious enamel, especially the pieces that have been sitting in your grandmother’s candy dish for 30 years. Yea, don’t eat those.
Damage – Cavities, tooth decay, and broken teeth are all causes of teeth sensitivity. Of course, these ailments leave the inner layers of our teeth exposed and will require professional assessment.
To reverse your tooth sensitivity, as mentioned, look for toothpaste and mouthwash that is specifically formulated to repair enamel. Maintain a good dental regimen of flossing, twice-daily brushing, and rinsing with mouthwash. Combined, along with avoiding the factors above, these items will help reduce your sensitivity issues.
Lastly, remember that hot/cold tooth sensitivity can be tied to a more complex dental problem, which can include gum disease, plaque, or previous dental work displaying side effects. With that many potential causes, it’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is causing your dental sensitivity, which means a dentist will be your best bet.
As we transition our discussion from dental sensitivity to just outright “I can’t stand this; I feel like I’m dying!” toothache pain, we move our dental focus from the exposed dentin to the pulp beneath. The pulp is where all of the nerve endings in your tooth reside, and these very sensitive nerves can make things quite unbearable, as you probably already know.
Whereas general tooth sensitivity results from a more easily identifiable list of causes, toothaches derive from such a long list of potential culprits that it’s difficult for nonprofessionals to diagnose on their own. Among them include:
- Gum disease and recession
- Mouth infection
- Shoddy dental work, including poorly [placed] crowns
- Serious health concerns, including sinus infections and heart problems
Feeling bewildered? That’s completely understandable, especially being that that list only represents a portion of the potential causes. What’s important is to monitor is how the pain arrives, how long it stays, how frequently it occurs, and how that pain responds to medicine. If you’re sick and are running a fever and experience a toothache, does it remain after the sickness has passed? Does your toothache persist while no other observable issues are apparent? It may be time to book an appointment with a dentist. The two of you may have to play Sherlock to get to the root of the problem, which could even send you to a regular doctor to discover if the pain in your teeth is but a byproduct of something else.
Monitor your toothache and dental sensitivity issues so you can provide as much information as possible to your dentist. For instance, when dealing with teeth sensitivity, the pain should be relatively brief, only lasting for a few seconds. If not, take note. Have you noticed any discharge or bleeding from your gums and or teeth? What about while chewing, is there pain? Have you noticed any swelling? How have you responded to over-the-counter medication such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or Orajel? The better a picture you’re able to paint, they better your dental professional will be at accurately pinpointing the issue from the myriad of potential options.
Dealing with teeth sensitivity and a toothache certainly isn’t fun and can quickly become problems that are impossible to ignore. You’ve learned about some of the causes of these issues, and now you can formulate a game plan to help target what your cause may be. If you do conclude, either through pain or persistence, that the problem is beyond your ability, it’s time to call the team at Beautiful Smiles Dental Center. We’re trusted experts with experience in getting to the core of teeth sensitivity and toothaches. We would love to help get you back to your regular pain-free self as quickly as possible.