Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ice Cream and Your Sensitive Teeth

It is summertime and that means lots of ice cream! Well maybe for everyone else, but not for you because you have sensitive teeth. Some people have sensitivity to hot drinks as well. While an occasional pain is common, ongoing sensitivity to heat and cold indicates that you have sensitive teeth.  Millions of people suffer with the pain of sensitive teeth.  In many instances, the pain and discomfort cause people to avoid their favorite foods. Some people‘s teeth are so sensitive that cold air produces pain! What many people are not aware of is the fact that sensitive teeth are easily treated and the effects are long lasting and, in some instances, permanent.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the roots of the teeth are exposed by receding gums.  The gums insulate the tooth’s roots and when they recede heat and cold penetrate the area. The roots contain tubules, which act like small pores, and lead directly to the nerve. The pain travels down the tubules when the heat and cold are present.

There are two reasons that gums recede. Improper brushing is the first reason. The American Dental Association estimates that about 60% of the population applies too much pressure when they brush their teeth. Over time, this added pressure causes the gum tissue to deteriorate and expose the roots.  The second thing that causes the gums to recede is poor oral hygiene. Not brushing and flossing leads to plaque build up. The plaque hardens into tartar, which develops bacteria. The bacteria cause gingivitis that result in receded gums.

Another cause of sensitive teeth is worn down enamel. Usually, your saliva places calcium on the tooth’s enamel. The calcium provides a protective layer over the tubule’s openings. That protective layer is worn down for a variety of reasons. Tooth grinding and acidic foods can erode the enamel, as well as lead to receding gums. One of the most common causes is brushing your teeth excessively, especially with over the counter tooth polishes that are abrasive. When the protective layer is worn down, the tubules that lead to the nerve are exposed. When you eat ice cream, the cold fluid is forced into the tubules and it hits the nerve, causing pain. Sometimes even moderately cold or warm food and beverages will cause discomfort as well.

Preventing Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth can be prevented by keeping the gums healthy. The first step to keeping the gums from receding is to reduce the pressure on your teeth when brushing. Since you have likely been brushing your teeth the same way for many years, brushing too hard can be a tough habit to break. Dentists advise using a motorized toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes will not work if too much pressure is applied, so using them helps reduce the wear and tear on the gums.  Electric toothbrushes can be purchased for as little as $15 at the drugstore.

Proper oral hygiene is another way to prevent sensitive teeth. Most people only spend less than 45 seconds brushing their teeth, when in actuality it takes 2-3 minutes to thoroughly brush your teeth.  Brushing your teeth quickly leaves some of the tooth structure unclean, which leads to plaque, then bacteria and ultimately gingivitis and receding gums.

Treating Sensitive Teeth

If you already have sensitive teeth, there is a treatment available. Potassium nitrate, which is found in sensitivity toothpastes, reduces tooth sensitivity. Sensodyne toothpaste is the #1 recommended toothpaste by dentists to treat sensitive teeth. Sensodyne is so effective that it begins to reduce tooth sensitivity within a few uses. When using Sensodyne, make sure that you are brushing properly and avoiding acidic foods to maximize its effectiveness.

When to see your dentist

If your sensitivity is so severe that switching to an electric brush and using sensitivity toothpaste does not work, then there is a treatment option available from your dentist.  Your dentist can use oxalate compounds to treat the root, which will eliminate the sensitivity. There is also a bonding process available to seal the pores of the root.

If you have mild tooth sensitivity, there are toothpastes that are designed to protect the tubules. While it is an over the counter treatment, you should see your dentist to be sure that this is the right treatment. If the sensitivity is caused by another condition, your dentist can make a determination in one visit. In addition to the pain that tooth sensitivity causes, you can also develop inflammation that is not reversible. This condition can lead to an abscess that is only treated by oral surgery. Therefore, while tooth sensitivity starts out as a seemingly simple issue, it can lead to a serious condition. Your biannual checkups are the best time to discuss tooth sensitivity with your dentist. Your dentist can track the condition and visually inspect your teeth, which enables him to make the proper recommendations for your mouth.

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