Sensitive Teeth? You’re not alone…

Something we hear a lot in our dental office is that a patient’s teeth hurt at certain moments – like when you’re eating a long-awaited ice cream on a summer day or when you’re sipping coffee at an early morning meeting. Noticing these moments is important, but why do those frequent twinges happen? We’d like to help you get to the bottom of this particular dental discomfort by sharing some common causes behind tooth sensitivity as well as some tips on how to reduce sensitivity.

What are some causes of tooth sensitivity?

Put simply, tooth enamel protects the crowns of your teeth and the cementum protects the roots of teeth below the gum line. When either of these barriers are depleted, dentin is exposed. If dentin is exposed, hot, cold, acidic, and/or sticky substances are allowed access to nerves and cells inside the tooth via dentin’s microscopic tubules. Whereas before these nerves and cells were protected by enamel and cementum, the dentin tubules are now exposed and this contact will cause nerves to react to certain substances.

Here is a rundown of some of the most common causes behind tooth sensitivity:

  • Overly aggressive tooth-brushing practices, which may or may not be connected to hard-bristled toothbrush usage
  • Highly acidic food and beverage consumption, which leads to erosion of tooth enamel
  • Tooth decay in the form of broken teeth or cavities, and/or worn fillings that no longer fit properly
  • Tooth-grinding (also known as bruxism)
  • Over-bleaching or overuse of whitening products

How to Reduce Sensitivity

Many of the common causes of tooth sensitivity result in the same thing: wearing down the tooth enamel or gum line.

We’ve compiled some recommendations here on how to combat some of these causes and lessen your chances of encountering tooth sensitivity:

  • Switch from a hard-bristled to a soft-bristled toothbrush, and check with us for a quick refresher to make sure that you’re brushing your teeth with good form.
  • Don’t consume as many acidic foods or beverages. What’s acidic, you ask? High-sugar carbs, soda, sticky candy, and other things. We know it’s hard to stop eating some of these foods, but we suggest you try less acidic alternatives like cheese, fruit, and veggies instead. They’re also healthier for you, which is a bonus!
  • If you have broken teeth, cavities, or fillings, please have us take a look at them so that we can find a way to minimize your dentin exposure.
  • Talk to us (and your MD) about tooth-grinding and how it could be affecting your teeth.
  • Take a break from using whitening or bleaching products.

Another thing to consider is that sensitivity can also be a sign of more serious conditions, like gum disease or gums that shrink as you age, a natural phenomenon. In either of these cases, we encourage you to tell us when you encounter a sensitive tooth, so that we can get you on the path to better dental health.

If you’re worried about tooth sensitivity, make sure to let us know at your next appointment, that way we can make a treatment plan to help you get back on the path of eating ice cream or drinking a cup of morning joe again!

The Lowdown on Teeth Grinding

Have you ever wondered if you grind your teeth at night? If you did, how would you know? Has one of your loved ones told you that they’ve heard you grinding your teeth?

If so, you’re not alone: teeth grinding, aka bruxism, is a fairly common phenomenon across the US. Depending on the individual, it can be related to more or less serious health concerns, but no matter which category you fall into it’s disconcerting to realize that this is all happening to you while you’re at rest and without your knowledge. Don’t worry though, there are things you can do! We want to go over the causes behind bruxism with you today, as well as ways you can help prevent it in your life.

What’s behind bruxism?

Up to now, the theory has been that tooth grinding is closely associated with stress or anxiety. This may be the case for some, but what about others? For example, babies have been observed grinding their teeth –or gums– in utero, which raised questions in the scientific community. Since this discovery, another possible cause behind bruxism emerged: is it possible that grinding is a survival response?

Recent research suggests that it is. The grinding that researchers observed during their experiments appeared to be the body’s natural survival response to bypass symptoms of sleep apnea.

Though many may not know it, our bodies require all of our muscles to be relaxed for the brain to achieve deep sleep. When relaxed, the tongue takes up almost double the amount of space, which can obstruct the airway and respiration. This results in more trouble for some people than others.

Researchers observed sleeping individuals with blocked airways suddenly start grinding their teeth, which – interestingly enough – reopened their airways and allowed them to breathe normally again. Among other potential tested solutions was a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, which served to restore full airway functionality and allowed sleeping participants to stop grinding their teeth and breathe properly.

So is grinding good or bad?

In the sense that bruxism is a response that saves your life if you stop breathing, bruxism is good. But in the sense of dental longevity, it’s bad. Bruxism can lead to damage of your teeth and jaw, and can bring about tooth sensitivity and chronic jaw pain. Headaches and periodontal tissue damage can also be related to bruxism.

Aside from oral health, tooth grinding disrupts normal sleep patterns. Did you know that all the great benefits of a full night’s rest only exist for you if you’ve made it to the deep sleep stage? So if you’re grinding your teeth regularly at night, you may not receive sleep-related benefits like improved memory, fat burn, muscle build, and tighter skin.

Teeth grinding can also serve as a red flag for sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Untreated sleep apnea can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

What can I do if I grind my teeth while sleeping?

Talk to us if you suspect you’re grinding your teeth at night. Some of the symptoms to look for include: wear on your teeth, flattened tooth surfaces, abfraction (which is a loss of tooth structure along the gum line that is not related to tooth decay), sore jaw muscles or TMJ pain, or a jaw that clicks.

While we don’t make a diagnosis about your quality of sleep, we can help you figure out if you are grinding your teeth by examining your mouth for these signs. Your medical doctor might then encourage you to get a sleep study to figure out whether your bruxism is related to sleep apnea or not.

If you suspect your grinding is stress-related, there are a number of things you can do to decrease your chances of tooth grinding at night. Starting an exercise regimen or attending stress counseling might help, but here are a few easily implemented tips to help you reduce your chance of bruxism:

  • Limit caffeine and alcohol before bed.
  • Try not to chew on objects that aren’t food – chewing gum included. Chewing on items like pens, pencils, and chewing gum stimulates tension in your jaw.
  • Try to recognize when you are tensing or clenching your jaw throughout the day. When you notice, place the tip of your tongue between your teeth; this encourages your jaw muscles to relax.
  • Grab a warm washcloth and hold it to your cheek (in front of your earlobe) as you fall asleep. The warmth helps relax your jaw muscles.

Think you’re grinding at night? Need more tips? Ask us your questions about bruxism at your next appointment!