Many of us are all too familiar with that sharp pain or sensitivity when we drink something that’s too hot or cold, or let ice cream touch our teeth for a moment too long. Perhaps very sweet, spicy or acidic foods leave your teeth feeling uncomfortable, too.
If you’re one of the 40% of Brits who suffer from dentine hypersensitivity at some point in their lives, you may simply put it down to poor oral health and regret not taking better care of your teeth in the years gone by.
It’s true that gum disease and dental caries can both contribute to sensitive teeth, and both can be treated by visiting a dentist. But there are other factors that could be contributing to your discomfort without you realising.
Before we take a look at these though, it’s important to understand a bit about the layers that make up your teeth:
- On the outside: enamel. Enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body and it gives your teeth the strength they need to bite and chew food. It also protects the layers beneath.
- Next: dentine. Dentine is a hard substance, although not as hard as enamel. It contains microscopic tubules which, if they become exposed to outside stimuli, can cause pain and sensitivity.
- In the centre: pulp. Dental pulp is the living part of the tooth, made up of nerves and blood vessels. If it becomes exposed, whether through thinning enamel or a chipped tooth, you’ll know about it.
In short, the enamel is the part we really need to protect. Once it becomes damaged, dental work may be necessary to repair the tooth. Enamel is mostly made of the mineral calcium phosphate, an ingredient which you’ll find in some of the best toothpastes for remineralising sensitive teeth. When combined with fluoride, like in BioMin® F Toothpaste, your teeth get extra protection for up to 12 hours after brushing.
So, let’s take a look at some things that might be harming your enamel without you realizing, leading to tooth sensitivity.
Using a whitening toothpaste
Many people experience heightened tooth sensitivity during teeth whitening treatments, especially stronger treatments from a dentist. Whitening toothpastes might seem quite harmless in comparison, but in fact they can make teeth sensitive for different reasons.
Most teeth whitening toothpastes rely on tiny particles to polish away stains on the teeth and restore the natural tooth colour. The problem is that with prolonged use they can also start to wear away tooth enamel.
Homemade toothpastes, which often contain baking soda or activated charcoal powder for their apparent whitening properties, carry the same risk. The raw ingredients can be more abrasive than those used in commercial toothpastes, so use with caution.
If you think your toothpaste is causing your teeth to become sensitive but you want to continue using it, try alternating with a remineralizing toothpaste-like BioMin F that’s clinically proven to reduce the effects of dentine hypersensitivity. If you’re using a natural toothpaste to avoid fluoride, BioMin C is a fluoride-free alternative.
Choice of toothbrush
Even if you’re using a toothpaste with low abrasiveness, your choice of toothbrush is important too. Firm bristles might feel like they’re cleaning your teeth better, but over time they can actually contribute to enamel erosion - especially if not replaced every three months.
Hard bristles can also irritate the gums, causing them to recede. This, in turn, exposes the root surfaces. This part of the tooth is not protected by enamel, making the dentine much more susceptible to hypersensitivity.
If you’ve tried a soft- or medium-bristled toothbrush and it just doesn’t feel like it’s cleaning your teeth as well, you could try an electric toothbrush instead. Powered brushes deliver hundreds of strokes per second to clean teeth effectively. Some also have a pressure sensor to alert you if you’re brushing too hard, so you can develop a better technique and avoid damaging your teeth and gums.
Grinding your teeth
It’s not that you think that grinding your teeth is a good thing; you just might not realize that you’re doing it. Some people clench their jaws inadvertently when they are stressed, and others grind their teeth during sleep. Both can lead to various problems including headaches, jaw pain, and eroded - even fractured - tooth enamel.
Dentists can usually spot the effects of teeth grinding early on, so if you regularly find your teeth, jaw or head aching when you wake up, you should mention this to your dentist. A custom mouthguard worn at night can help reduce the effects of teeth grinding while you work on the underlying cause.
If tooth sensitivity is a concern for you, speak to your dentist at your next visit so that they can check for any underlying problems that might need to be treated. But with routine dental checkups hard to come by these days, it’s good to know that you don’t have to put up with the problem while you wait.