A sharp pain experienced after drinking a hot or cold drink can indicate the presence of a sensitive tooth. A simple test to see if your teeth are sensitive is to run your fingernail gently around where the teeth meet the gum. A sensitive tooth may respond with a short, sharp pain.
Sometimes teeth become sensitive after your dentist or dental hygienist has scaled them, or scraped off the layers of tartar. Tartar or calculus hardened and calcified plaque, which appears as a light brown deposit and usually forms where the teeth meet the gum. It is behind the lower front teeth and the cheek side of upper molars that tend to accumulate the most tartar. Removing this layer can mean the teeth may be sensitive to cold air. Thorough, gentle brushing and flossing to ensure plaque removal will help to improve this sensitivity.
Poor brushing techniques can cause sensitive teeth. If you use a hard toothbrush or do not brush your teeth correctly, you can wear away protective tooth enamel. Toothbrush abrasion from fast and aggressive brushing techniques is commonly seen at the gumline of back teeth, but can also occur at the gumline of front teeth. Your dental professional can assist you with the correct technique for a soft manual toothbrush or an electric toothbrush.
The regular intake of acidic food and drinks can also be a cause of sensitive teeth. You should not brush your teeth immediately after having acidic foods or drinks or after vomiting. The low pH (acidity) of soft drinks, for example, can cause a softening of the exposed surface of the tooth where the abrasive action of a toothbrush and toothpaste can more easily remove some tooth structure.
Saliva has a natural buffering and rehardening ability to help maintain the teeth when under an acid attack. Professional food and wine tasters, athletes replenishing fluids with sport drinks, individuals consuming soft drinks, fruit juices and cordials, and people with a tendency to gastric reflux or vomiting should delay their toothbrushing for one hour following these activities to allow sufficient time for the saliva to reharden the exposed areas of the tooth.
As you get older, you may find that your gums are receding, this gives the appearance of getting long in the tooth. Incorrect brushing and flossing techniques can cause gums to recede or pull back, exposing the roots of the teeth. Once this area is exposed, the chance of sensitivity is greatly increased. These exposed roots can lead to a further problem, a form of decay known as root caries.
The roots of your teeth are exposed when gums recede. These root surfaces are more vulnerable to decay as they have had little exposure to fluoride and don’t have the covering of the protective enamel. Root caries is likely to occur more quickly in mouths where saliva flow has been affected by medications, medical conditions, stress and/or medical procedures. Your dentist or dental hygienist may recommend a fluoride product to help prevent this from occurring.
Consult with your dentist and dental hygienist on a correct brushing technique. A toothbrush specially formulated to reduce sensitivity may also help. They will show you the correct brush and how to use it properly.
By brushing gently with desensitising toothpaste, you should start to notice an improvement, in most cases within two to four weeks. If, after one month of consistent use, your teeth are still sensitive, consult your dentist.
If tooth sensitivity is so severe that you cannot brush or floss properly, consult your dentist who may apply a varnish or special solution to the tooth surface for an immediate but temporary relief. Your behavioural habits will determine the effectiveness of this treatment.
Consistent tooth sensitivity that does not respond to conservative treatments is usually an indication of a more serious problem.