Do you ever get twinges or pain when you consume something hot, cold or sweet? What about when you brush or floss your teeth? If so, you have plenty of company. One survey showed that one in eight people experienced tooth sensitivity.
Why do teeth get sensitive? And does this automatically mean that you have cavities? Not necessarily. But it’s worth learning about. Let's look at how sensitivity can develop.
The outer coating of your teeth is called the enamel. This is the surface that protects your teeth from assault by bacteria. It can be gradually eroded by plaque, the film that forms on your teeth between brushings, especially when you consume sweet or starchy foods. You'll remove most of this plaque by regularly brushing your teeth. However, any that remains will soon harden and have to be removed by your twice-annual dental cleanings.
Plaque that remains on your teeth will begin to eat away at your enamel. Left unchecked, this will reveal the inner parts of your tooth. When this happens, you will start to experience sensitivity because your tooth isn’t as protected as it was before.
Do Cavities Cause Sensitivity?
A cavity (decayed part of a tooth) occurs when bacteria attack part of your tooth already weakened by plaque. A cavity may cause sensitivity but it also may not. Most people who have cavities don't know it, which is why it's so important to have your regular dental checkups.
If a cavity gets so extensive that it reaches the inner soft part of the tooth called the pulp, you will very likely notice. Not only will the tooth probably be sensitive to temperature or sweetness, it may also hurt for no reason.
What Else Can Cause Sensitivity?
Gum disease will also cause sensitivity. You may notice your gums bleeding after you brush them, or the problem could be less obvious.
Cracked teeth or fillings are likely to be sensitive, especially to cold and biting in to things. If a filling has been cracked, you probably won't be able to see it but a visit to the dentist will find it.
Enamel erosion from tooth grinding or clenching can result in sensitivity. You could be grinding your teeth at night and not even knowing it. Your dentist will be able to spot damage from grinding earlier than it will be visible to you.
What to Do About Sensitive Teeth
In most cases, tooth sensitivity is a bad sign. It often is a symptom of some underlying problem and should be checked into.
The most important thing to remember about dental health is that prevention is by far the best option—saving time, money and worry. If tooth sensitivity does show up, getting it checked by your dentist promptly will prevent more serious problems.
Dental problems can progress rapidly. Many people put off their checkups because they’re busy or don’t want to spend the money. However, the cost of dealing with an early problem will always be less than dealing with an advanced one.