Why so sensitive? The causes of sensitive teeth and how to protect your smile 11



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Do you sometimes feel a tooth twinge when you drink something hot or cold, spicy or sweet? Whether the pain goes away fast or it takes a little longer to leave, it could be a sign of tooth sensitivity – or a warning about more serious dental problems to come.

All about enamel

Although it’s the hardest substance in the human body, you only have a thin layer of enamel protecting your teeth. If it’s worn away – by physical or chemical means – the result can be sensitivity.

Dr Karlien Roper from rt healthy teeth in Surry Hills says: ‘The pain of sensitivity is due to tiny holes in the enamel – minute nerves inside the tooth are exposed to extremes in temperature, triggering pain. Plus, as the dentine layer underneath enamel is off white rather than full-on white, your teeth could take on a yellowy tinge. The bottom line? Your teeth are more vulnerable to being worn down’.

The causes of sensitive teeth

Lots of people are affected by sensitive teeth and lots of factors can contribute, says Dr Karlien, including:

• Brushing too hard – which can literally brush enamel away.

• Acid erosion – enamel dissolves when in contact with acidic food and drinks.

• Gum disease – your teeth are anchored into your jaw by your gums so keeping them healthy is vital. Gum disease can result when plaque (which can be removed by careful brushing) or tartar (which is a hard, cement-like material that can only be removed by your dentist) build up.

• Tooth grinding – clenching and grinding the teeth can cause enamel to wear away.

• Cracks in a tooth or filling – exposing the sensitive insides to the outside.

• Excessive whitening – this affects some people. Speak with your dentist for more information.

Do something – fast!

Ready to protect your smile? Dr Karlien suggest that you:

1. Have a preventive dental check-up. A massive 78% of primary teeth in 5–15-year-old children show signs of acid erosion, which usually gets worse with age so it’s worth tackling early . Your dentist can detect the signs of acid wear and early treatment can make all the difference to a healthy smile today and in the future.

2. Use special products. Your dentist may treat sensitive areas with appropriate products – gels, rinses or varnishes – to help relieve the symptoms and build protection. ‘If erosion is advanced, your dentist can treat the damage with a filling or crown. If you grind your teeth, your dentist may suggest a special mouthguard to wear at night,’ says Karlien

3. Brush – but not too soon. Brush at least twice daily using small, circular movements with a soft-bristled brush and a fluoride containing toothpaste. Don’t brush until at least half an hour after eating or drinking though – or you could literally brush away acid softened enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water or a fluoride containing mouthwash.

4. Use special toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth. ‘These plug up the tiny holes, protect enamel and reduce the nerve’s response to sensitivity. Use as a daily toothpaste and/or apply with a finger to sensitive areas – your dentist can advise you,’ says Dr Karlien.

5. Chew sugar-free gum after a meal. Again the action of chewing triggers the release of saliva, which neutralises acids.

6. Watch the acidic drinks. Dr Karlien explains: ‘Juices, cordials, sports drinks, energy drinks, carbonated (fizzy) drinks and wine are all acidic. When they come into contact with teeth, they soften the minerals in your teeth. One study from the University of Adelaide showed that after kids consume acidic beverages, it took just 30 seconds for the damage to occur ’.

7. Don’t drink juices and manufactured drinks before bed. ‘And don’t let your kids sip on the stuff either. The amount of saliva is naturally reduced during sleep, which leaves more time for acid from juices and manufactured drinks to attack the teeth. Water has no acid, no kilojoules and most tap water in Australia contains fluoride,’ ends Dr Karlien Roper.

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Ravinder Lilly

Ravinder Lilly has worked as a dietitian in the UK and in Australia and is an experienced health journalist. She is the communications manager and dietitian at Australia's oldest registered health fund, rt health fund, which serves the people who work in Australia's energy and transport industries and their families.

  1. Toothpaste for sensitive teeth. The only thing that helps me. If I haven’t used it for some reason I know. It is more expensive but I managed to buy a box of twelve for $20 on Catch of the Day.

  2. Went to the dentist with this problem , keep filling between the gum and the tooth with golgate sensitive , for at least 6 weeks , it works !

  3. I see my dentist regularly and use toothpaste that he gives me but my teeth are very sensitive. I use a straw for drinks so that the liquid doesn’t touch them. I drink water and never soft drinks.

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