Dealing with sensitive teeth

Lots of people who have sensitive teeth think they just have to live with the condition and they give up foods and drinks they love. What they don’t know is, they can control, and maybe even eliminate, their sensitivity and still enjoy those treats.

It may, however, first involve a visit with someone they’ve also been avoiding.

“Many people don’t like going to the dentist and oftentimes put off problems, whether they are having pain and discomfort and they don’t get it treated because they don’t want to go,” said Angie’s List founder Angie Hicks, “but that is going to lead to bigger problems that are harder to treat.”

For people with sensitive teeth, the pain they feel is mostly likely happening because they’re having issues with their enamel. That’s the thickest part of a tooth and the first line of defense against sensitivity.

“There’s many different things that can damage the enamel,” said dentist Dr. Rob Gausmann. “One of the most common one is the items that we drink. There’s soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, different types of wine, and the reason why those are challenging to enamel is they are full of acid.”

Some vegetables and fruits contain acids, as do sour candies. Jawbreakers and nuts don’t have acids but they’re hard and can crack the enamel. Chewing ice, grinding or clenching the teeth is just asking for trouble. Fillings that fix cavities will sometimes allow cold to be transmitted to the nerves below, and some teeth whitening products that penetrate the tooth to remove stain will cause sensitivity.

Another problem? You may be brushing your teeth wrong.

“Some folks really like to get their teeth clean and they just kind of scrub along there,” Gausmann added. “You get your teeth clean, but the problem is you can actual damage your teeth when you do that. You can wear away tooth structure, and you can actually wear away some of the gum tissue along there. Well, if you wear away tooth structure we are making it thinner and you get more cold transmitting to the nerve for more cold sensitivity, and then the gum tissue actually protects the tooth a little bit, too. So if you wear that away it exposes more of that tooth that’s thinner and more cold sensitivity with it.”

Back to the reason so many of us put up with the pain. How do you combat that fear of the dentist issue?

“So the key here is finding a dentist that you can talk to easily and talk to about this anxiety and discomfort you might have when you are at the dentist. Many dentists can come up with ways to make the process much less painful — and also going more frequently. While it might seem crazy to most people, it can actually make the process much easier on you,” said Hicks.

Experts tell Angie’s List that toothpaste, rinses or trays that contain fluoride are good ideas because they’ll help strengthen teeth, which reduces sensitivity. If you’re one of those who likes to use over the counter teeth whitening products, Dr. Gausmann says you’re probably OK as long as your products are approved by the American Dental Association, but stop chomping on that ice. For other tips on how to keep your enamel fracture–free, visit