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How to Care for Sensitive Teeth

Many of us say we have ďsensitive teeth.Ē We usually mean that we feel twinges of pain or discomfort in our teeth in certain situations. These may include:

  • Drinking or eating cold things
  • Drinking or eating hot things
  • Eating sweets
  • Touching the teeth with other teeth or the tongue
  • Breathing cold air

Over half of us experience the twinge of sensitive teeth at some point in our lives — 30 percent of us suffer daily — and itís a problem that seems to be on the rise. One of the most common dental complaints, it tends to peak in the 30-50 age group. Women are consistently shown to suffer more, although no one knows why.


One culprit is receding gums — they expose the sensitive dentine roots of the teeth not covered by protective enamel. Receding gums become more common with age, but theyíre also caused by over-brushing, which wears them away, or under-brushing and not flossing, which can lead to disease and shrinkage.

Certain foods and drinks can contribute, too. Anything acidic will slightly dissolve the enamel. That means sugary foods and drinks; anything frizzy, including carbonated water; and fruit and fruit juice — particularly rhubarb and grapefruit. Wines, vinegars, pickles and lemon juice can have the same effect.

Other causes can include gastric reflux, where acid comes up to the mouth from the stomach. People with eating disorder like bulimia often have sensitive teeth, thanks to acid erosion from vomiting.

Excessive teething grinding can wear enamel away, and tooth-whitening procedures can cause temporary sensitivity.

What You Can Do:

A few tweaks to your dental regime and diet really could help:

Avoid hard-bristled brushes. Itís a good idea to avoid hard-bristled brushes and aggressive scrubbing. Choose a medium bristle or, better still, an electric toothbrush. Itís almost impossible to over-brush with one, and youíll keep gums cleaner, so disease is less likely.

Oral B Triumph 9900 Toothbrush with Smart Guide comes with a wireless display that includes a warning signal if you are brushing your teeth too hard. If the device registers you are brushing too hard, a red light will appear on the monitor which signals you to lighten up on the pressure. Another feature on this wireless device is a circle which is divided into the quarters of your mouth, showing you which areas you have already brushed. This helps to prevent over-brushing of one area of your mouth.

Bring on the desensitizing toothpaste. Itís also worth trying products specifically designed for the issue. There are two formulations of toothpastes that treat sensitive teeth: strontium chloride and potassium nitrate.

Sensodyne was the original toothpaste for treating sensitive teeth; its active ingredient was strontium chloride.

When your roots are exposed, you may have open pores in your tooth dentin that lead straight to the pulp of your tooth. Merely touching this surface can provoke pain. Cold or air can also cause pain. Strontium chloride, the ingredient in the original Sensodyne formula, plugs these pores or tubules.

Later on, a potassium nitrate toothpaste formula was introduced, which is also very effective in treating tooth sensitivity. It appears that the potassium works by calming the nerve of the tooth, which prevents the transmitting of painful stimuli. Denquel was introduced as a competing brand, with the alternate potassium nitrate formula.

After that, Sensodyne introduced a potassium nitrate formula version. Now there are several brands available with both of these formulas, and they all appear to work well. Itís a case of finding one that works for your particular pattern of sensitivity. If you try one formula and it doesn't work, it may help to try the other formula.

For best results, put the toothpaste onto a dry brush, so itís not diluted, and spit — but donít rinse — after youíve finished.

Floss daily. Do not avoid flossing your teeth; itís an important part of proper dental hygiene. You should do it at least once a day after brushing your teeth.

Avoid sugary, fizzy and diet drinks. While itís probably best to avoid sugary, fizzy and diet drinks, donít abstain from fruit, juice or other healthy but acidic foods — just donít brush within 20 minutes (and ideally an hour) of consuming them. Salvia helps neutralize the acid on your teeth and if you brush straightaway, youíll interfere with this process, as well as rinsing away any temporarily softened enamel. So brush your teeth before breakfast, not after.

Drink everything through a straw. Start protecting your smile today by drinking everything through a straw. Position the straw towards the back of your mouth. This will limit the amount of time the beverage is in contact with your teeth.

Up your intake of coenzyme Q10. There is some evidence has linking gum disease to lower levels of coenzyme Q10, an antioxidant made naturally in the body, found widely in foods, and available in supplement form.

Wear a mouth guard. If you grind your teeth in your sleep, then you should ask your dentist about getting a mouth guard to wear in your sleep. This will help prevent grinding your teeth which can lead to sensitivity.

See your dentist. If the pain is very high in intensity and prolonged, see your dentist.

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