Cold drinks, cold food, even cold air and sweets can cause unexpected discomfort at the worst possible time – when you’re trying to enjoy some of your favorite foods. What does it mean and what can you do to minimize it?
First, be sure that sensitivity isn’t part of some larger and more serious issue. For the most part, “sensitivity” lasts no more than a few seconds, and the trigger should be obvious – something cold or sweet that’s touched the tooth. If the pain persists, or if there’s throbbing as well, or if there’s not an obvious trigger…see your dentist. It could be a sign of something else entirely.
How does sensitivity happen? It’s all about enamel and dentin. Enamel, the hard outer covering of the tooth, has no nerve endings. But under that, most of the tooth – and the entire root – is made of dentin, and dentin is filled with liquid that causes nerves to react with a signal for short, sharp pain when it’s disturbed. There’s your sensitivity. Ideally, enamel covers the entire tooth, but when it wears thin or the gum recede, dentin can become exposed and sensitivity can occur.
What is your first course of action? Try using a special, desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate. These toothpastes are very effective when it comes to root sensitivity and they can eliminate or decrease sensitivity within two weeks in about 80 percent of cases.
These helpful desensitizing toothpastes should be applied with a soft or extra-soft brush. Manual or electric, you’ll want a brush that’s been designed to be non-abrasive, because a hard or abrasive brush could actually damage the enamel and expose even more dentin – exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
Keep in mind, too, that receding gums can cause sensitivity as well. That makes maintaining healthy gums especially important, so less tooth root is exposed.
Finally: grinding or clenching your teeth can also erode enamel and expose dentin. If that’s an ongoing issue, take the time to consult your dentist and see if a night guard would be appropriate. It can help your oral health in any number of ways … including sensitivity.
And, of course, if you are still experiencing sensitivity after all your best efforts, see your dentist. There are other treatments that can deal with this common and truly annoying problem.