We are all aware of that sudden piercing pain that we experience in our teeth when we bite into ice cream, isn’t it? While this is an occasional occurrence with most people, a large section of the population lives with this sensitivity to cold, hot, sweet and sour foods and drinks. In fact, the discomfort is also elicited by breathing in cold air. This is termed as teeth sensitivity and there can be many causes of sensitive teeth. But before we learn more about them, we must understand what is tooth sensitivity and why does it occur.
Our teeth are divided into two parts- the upper white part that we can see is called the crown, and the part that is anchored firmly in the jaw bone is called the root. The crown portion of our teeth is made up of three layers- the outermost enamel, the middle dentine and the innermost pulp(that contains the nerves). The root, however, lacks an outer enamel and contains outer cementum, the middle dentine and the inner pulp.
The pulpal layer of the teeth contains the nerves and blood vessels. The ends of these nerves extend into the dentin. So, in cases where the enamel layer is worn out or is absent, any stimulus or the many causes of sensitive teeth can directly affect the dentine and elicit a sudden, sharp-shooting pain.
Similarly, since the root lacks the protective enamel layer, when it is exposed to the oral environment, these stimuli trigger a sudden sensitivity via the dentine channels or tubules. One can say that it is these dentinal tubules that are responsible for teeth sensitivity. Many times people wonder “what causes sensitive teeth all of a sudden?”
Causes of Sensitive Teeth
From acidic foods to simple air breathed-in, there are a large number of stimuli that cause sensitive teeth. But, what causes these dentinal tubules to become so sensitive? Here are the top causes of sensitive teeth that you need to know!
- Brushing too Hard- If you brush your teeth with too much gusto and enthusiasm, chances are that you will end up wearing away the enamel layer on the tooth and exposing the dentinal channels, thereby leading to sensitive teeth. Among the many causes of sensitive teeth, brushing too hard is one of the most common causes of teeth sensitivity.
Also, if you use a hard-bristled brush, chances are that even with more than average force, you will end up wearing away your teeth enamel. This effect is more pronounced on the right side in right-handed people and left side in left-handed people as these are the sides they tend to brush with more force.
- Grinding your Teeth- Among the causes of sensitive teeth, this is relatively common and is seen in people who suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, or have jaw problems and tend to grind or clench their teeth in the process.
Most of these people grind or clench their teeth while sleeping at night and this habit is called bruxism. In the process of grinding and clenching one’s teeth, the enamel layer of the teeth gets worn out exposing the dentinal tubules. In most cases, this occurs on all teeth.
- Eating Acidic Foods- We are aware that bacteria in the mouth use food debris to produce acids which dissolve the tooth structure to cause cavities. The same effect is seen when people eat too much acidic food. Foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, tamarind, pickles, tea etc., are some of the common causes of sensitive teeth.
- Tobacco Chewing- While grinding and clenching of teeth occurs subconsciously, wearing-off of the enamel layer of teeth is also common in people who have a tobacco chewing habit. The reason for this is that your teeth tend to grind not just against each other but also against the coarse tobacco particles.
- Poor Oral Hygiene- This is another one of the common causes of sensitive teeth. Most people take their oral hygiene for granted and this leads to plaque build-up. Whenever there is plaque and calculus build-up, it pushes the gums away from the teeth, resulting in gum recession. Gum recession exposes the tooth roots and results in tooth sensitivity.
- Recent Dental Procedures- Another common yet often ignored causes of sensitive teeth are recently performed dental procedures such as fillings, root canals, crowns, cleaning, root planning etc. In all these cases, the dentinal layer gets irritated or stimulated due to various causes leading to tooth sensitivity.
- Small Cavities– We often equate tooth pain with decayed teeth and cavities. But, cavities in their initial stages cause sensitivity to cold foods. In fact, this is used as a symptomatic diagnostic aid to detect if the decay in the patient’s tooth has reached the pulp or not. This is also a fairly common cause of sensitive teeth.
- Cracked or Chipped Teeth- When a tooth gets chipped-off or cracked due to trauma or strong biting forces, it is usually the enamel layer which gets chipped off first and exposes the dentinal tubules. This triggers strong sensitivity in the tooth. Patients are usually not aware that this could be one of the causes of sensitive teeth.
The management of sensitive teeth is dependent upon the causes of sensitive teeth. Many a time, anti-sensitivity gels or toothpaste are useful when the sensitivity is short-term. If you suffer from teeth sensitivity or wish to know more about it, drop in to our clinic today and speak to our team of dental experts.