Do you feel a sharp flash of pain whenever you eat ice cream or drink your morning coffee? You may be suffering from tooth sensitivity. This is a common but frustrating condition, and it can arise for a range of reasons.
Worn tooth enamel
Despite the outer layer of your teeth being the toughest tissue in the human body, it can wear down from exposure to acidic foods and drinks or gastric juices, or from not properly brushing your teeth. When the enamel erodes, the underlying dentine gets exposed, which is why your teeth suddenly feel a lot more sensitive to cold or foods and drinks.
Similar to worn-down tooth enamel, gum recession can expose parts of your teeth that are far more sensitive. Generally occurring as a consequence of aging or poor oral health, this condition means the gum pulls back from the tooth surface, leaving the roots—which are normally protected—exposed.
Gum inflammation and disease
Also known as gingivitis, gum inflammation refers to a loss of the ligaments that support the teeth. This results in exposure of the root surface of the tooth, and subsequently, the nerve ending. Hence, tooth sensitivity is very common in this condition. If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis—that is, loss of tooth attachment to the underlying gums/ bone. Here, the inner layer of the gum actually pulls away from your teeth, causing pockets to form, where food, plaque and tartar can collect.
If the sensitivity seems to be localised to one region in the mouth, it’s possible that you’re experiencing tooth decay. As the damage progresses, the layers beneath the protective outer layer of tooth enamel are gradually exposed, leading to increased sensitivity.
When teeth chip or break, the gaps are susceptible to bacteria build-up. As this build-up makes contact with the layers beneath the tooth enamel, it is likely you may experience some inflammation and sensitivity.
If you’ve found yourself suddenly encountering new stresses in life, you may be subconsciously grinding your teeth (either in your sleep or while awake). This seemingly harmless act of grinding can slowly wear down the tooth enamel, subsequently heightening tooth sensitivity.
If you’ve recently had your teeth whitened, you may find certain foods and drinks are causing pain and sensitivity. This often depends on the type of bleaching agent used: some are more highly concentrated than others, which can increase teeth sensitivity.
Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
Just as acidic foods such as fruits, juices and sports drinks can strip away small amounts of tooth enamel over time, GERD can have the same effect. This health condition causes stomach acid to come back up through the esophagus, which can gradually wear down the teeth, eventually causing tooth sensitivity.
Recent dental work
Whether you’ve had your teeth cleaned, a crown placed or some other kind of restorative treatment, it is not unusual to experience heightened tooth sensitivity in the days following a dental procedure. You can rest reassured knowing this sensitivity is usually temporary and should disappear on its own within four to six weeks.
To get to the root cause of your sudden teeth sensitivity , it’s important to book an appointment with your dentist. They will investigate the problem and help to provide solutions - from sensitivity-reducing toothpastes to corrective procedures - so you can get on with your life as pain-free as possible.