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Sensitive teeth

Toothbrush and paste
Toothbrush and paste
Photo by Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Teeth have a porous surface, referred to as dental tubules. These pores, when exposed can lead to periods of heightened sensitivity of the teeth. Along with the open tubules, erosion, a reduction of the tooth surface along the gum tissue, plays a key role in dental sensitivity. Causes of erosion are both mechanical and chemical. Mechanical forces range from applied forces such as brushing, clenching of the teeth, to retention wear from partials. Chemical forces come in the form of acid attacks and pH imbalance of the oral cavity. These acid attacks ‘eat’ away at the surface of the tooth.

Improper brushing and residual dental plaque produces acid along the gum line leading to the breakdown of the tooth surface. High sugar diets, like sipping soda, are the leading cause of decalcification and decay due to the constant chemical damage to the teeth. As always there are some ‘healthy foods’ that can also lead to sensitivity and erosion.

Among the healthy foods that contribute to sensitivity are those that are high in acids. During the winter harvest of citrus fruits and during the summer tomato season patients seem to have a spike in dental sensitivity because of over indulgence in these seasonal products. Wine and coffee also pose among the most common threats to heightened sensitivity, also in part to the high acid content of these products. While these foods are not ‘bad’ for your health, moderation of consumption is important.

A soft bristled toothbrush, used twice a day, and flossing are the first steps in minimizing dental sensitivity and erosion while also lessening your risk of decay. Your diet should consist of nutritional foods and making the necessary changes to moderate or break bad food habits. Water is a wise choice! Drinking plenty of water will keep you hydrated and helps in diluting food debris left in your mouth after meals and snacks.

For periodic bouts of sensitivity, over the counter anti-sensitivity toothpastes and rinses usually work well. If sensitivity persists a consultation with your dentist is recommended to rule out possible decay or severe erosion that would warrant in office treatment.