Why your teeth are sensitive

To prevent damage, visit a dentist regularly to assess the condition of your teeth. Stock photo.

What you need to know:

Sensitive teeth. The quality of your toothbrush and your technique while brushing are some of the causes of sensitive teeth, writes Beatrice Nakibuuka.

Tooth sensitivity is a common dental problem that involves discomfort or pain in teeth when encountering certain substances and temperatures.
According to Dr Patrick Kyagulanyi, a dental surgeon at Dental Solutions, the foods we eat and some practices cause our teeth to become sensitive.
Several adults world over suffer from teeth sensitivity which causes a temporary but sharp pain which may shoot into the tooth’s nerve endings when it is exposed to air, cold, sweet, acidic or hot foods.
Some people may experience tooth sensitivity from brushing or flossing their teeth. Fortunately, sensitive teeth can be treated and the condition can improve.

In normal teeth, the enamel protects the inner layer of dentin. The tooth roots are protected by gums. But if the enamel is worn out or the gum line has moved away, then the dentin becomes exposed.
“Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel that protects our teeth gets thinner, or when gum recession occurs, exposing the underlying surface, the dentin, thus, reducing the protection the enamel and gums provide to the tooth and root,” says Dr Kyagulanyi.
The major causes of sensitivity in teeth are; worn out tooth enamel from using a hard toothbrush and using a hard grip while brushing aggressively; tooth erosion due to highly acidic foods and beverages such as lemon. Tooth decay, worn leaky fillings and broken teeth that expose the dentin of your tooth.

He says, “Teeth grinding also leads to wearing away of the enamel. Tooth-whitening products contain harsh chemicals to remove stains, but can also remove the enamel. Gum recession, which happens in people suffering from periodontal disease, exposes the dentin thereby causing sensitivity.”

Long-term use of mouthwash can cause sensitivity since some over-the-counter mouthwashes contain acids. These acids erode the enamel leaving the dentin exposed.
The acids can make existing tooth sensitivity worse and also further damage the dentin layer. Sometimes the dental procedures such as professional cleaning, root planning, crown replacement and other tooth restoration procedures may cause sensitivity. Fortunately, usually the pain will disappear in four to six weeks.

Dr Kyagulanyi advises that when you develop sensitive teeth, it is important to see a dentist immediately to have the problem fixed with the appropriate treatment but if you want to protect your teeth from sensitivity damage:
Use desensitising toothpastes but after a recommendation from a dentist because not every over the counter toothpaste will be as effective.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and avoid brushing the teeth too hard.
Reduce or eliminate acidic foods and beverages from your diet.
Avoid teeth grinding and tooth whitening.
Don’t forget to see a dentist for cleanings and an examination every six months.
Use neutral fluoride mouthwashes.