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Sensitive teeth: Ouch - that hurts!
Normally, our teeth are insensitive to pain because the enamel and gums provide protection against external influences. When these protective structures recede, there is no longer a barrier between the oral cavity and the pain-sensitive dentin inside the tooth. Sensitive teeth are the result (medical term: dentine hypersensitivity): Then contact with cold, hot, sweet or sour foods and drinks triggers unpleasant pain.
Sensitive teeth: signs
Anyone who suffers from sensitive teeth knows it all too well: discomfort that occurs especially after consuming certain drinks or foods.
Affected persons complain, for example, of teeth that are sensitive to cold (tooth reacts to cold), of toothache in the presence of heat and cold, or of teeth that are sensitive to temperature.
Such “tooth sensitivity” can manifest itself in different ways after exposure to certain stimuli:
- lightning-like toothache
- Pulling in the tooth
- Stinging in the tooth
In most cases, the person affected makes a “hissing” sound due to the pain – and in the future avoids the respective trigger, such as ice or hot tea, as much as possible.
Important: If you constantly suffer from sensitive teeth or notice other symptoms such as bleeding gums, a visit to the dentist is advisable.
Sensitive teeth after bleaching
After certain dental treatments, sensitive teeth can occur as a “side effect”, so to speak. For example, some patients complain of pain-sensitive teeth after bleaching (teeth whitening) has been performed. The discomfort here is due to the use of active ingredients such as hydrogen peroxide and usually only occurs temporarily. If in doubt, talk to your dentist here as well.
Bleeding gums in sensitive teeth: What’s behind it?
When the enamel – the protective, outer layer of the tooth – is broken down, the so-called dentin inside the tooth is gradually exposed. What many people don’t know: The same thing happens when the gums recede, thus exposing the dentin around the necks of the teeth.
The problem is that thousands of tubules run through the dentin all the way to the tooth nerve. If the dentin is exposed, stimuli caused by cold, sweet or sour foods and drinks, for example, can be transmitted via the tubules to the dental nerve. The result: a lightning-like, pulling pain in the tooth.
The cause of such gum recession is usually an accumulation of plaque bacteria at the gum line. If this plaque is not removed regularly and thoroughly, the gums can become inflamed. As a result, swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums may occur – and over time the gums may recede.
Sensitive teeth and gum problems: What to do?
If you suffer from pain-sensitive teeth and gum problems, you should take action. Because if you do nothing, you run the risk of unpleasant consequences. For example, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, an inflammation of the tooth bed. Here’s what you can do yourself for your gum health:
- Thorough brushing: Many people tend to barely brush their teeth when their teeth are painful and their gums are causing problems. However, this is exactly wrong! Because thorough removal of bacterial plaque is the be-all and end-all of effective dental care. After all, plaque bacteria are the most common cause of tooth decay and gingivitis. Brushing twice a day is therefore essential for healthy gums.
- A gentle technique: The most important thing when brushing your teeth is not to press down too hard. Because scrubbing too hard can irritate the gums and therefore promote gum recession. For this reason, the right toothbrushing technique is essential. The so-called “Stillman technique” is well suited, for example, in which the toothbrush is moved in a kind of wiping motion from the gums to the tooth – i.e. from red to white.
- The right toothbrush: Use a toothbrush with soft bristles. This facilitates cleaning that is gentle on the gums. Clean interdental spaces: You can only reach about 70 percent of the tooth surface with a toothbrush. To remove plaque from the interdental spaces, dental floss or so-called interdental brushes are the means of choice.
- Suitable toothpaste: A suitable toothpaste containing fluoride can also help to keep teeth and gums healthy if used regularly. Ask your dentist for advice on this.
- Professional teeth cleaning: To prevent problems with teeth and gums, professional dental cleaning may also be recommended. Special instruments are used to gently remove plaque from the teeth and interdental spaces. The teeth are then polished so that the tooth surface is very smooth. This is to make it more difficult for plaque bacteria to take hold. Finally, varnishes or gels containing fluoride are applied to protect the teeth.
Good to know: If tooth sensitivity and gum problems persist for a long time, be sure to consult your dentist for advice.
Brushing your teeth: Paying attention to the right technique
Good oral hygiene with twice-daily brushing is the most important protection for teeth and gums. Important: Don't just brush your teeth somehow - because mistakes in oral hygiene are an important cause of problems with teeth and gums. For example, heavy pressure and vigorous scrubbing when brushing your teeth can cause enamel to break down or gums to recede. Existing problems can also be exacerbated. For people with pain-sensitive teeth and gum problems, for example, the so-called "wipe-out" or "red-to-white technique" is suitable: the toothbrush is gently guided from the gums to the tooth in a kind of wiping motion.
Why do teeth react sensitively?
Typical of “sensitive teeth” is a sharp, usually pulling pain that occurs, for example, after eating hot or cold food or drinks. Sweet things also often make the person affected really cringe.
The most common causes of sensitive teeth include:
- Exposed tooth necks, the development of which is favored by receding gums.
- Tooth erosion as a result of enamel degradation. In this case, the dentin (tooth bone) under the enamel is exposed; experts refer to this as hard tooth defects.
In both cases, the dentinal tubules, which are permeated by nerve endings, are exposed without protection. As a result, there is an increased sensitivity to hot, cold and/or sweet things.
Sensitive teeth: risk factors
There are various risk factors that favor the development of hypersensitive teeth. These are, on the one hand, factors that promote gum recession and, on the other hand, those that affect the tooth enamel. We have summarized the most important ones for you here.
Incorrect brushing Strong pressure when brushing your teeth promotes both gum recession and enamel wear; the wrong toothbrush with bristles that are too hard can also have unfavorable effects here.
Teeth grinding Teeth grinding promotes the wear of enamel and thus the exposure of dentin
Gum inflammation (gingivitis) or periodontitis, as it often also causes recession of the gums.
After tooth whitening the teeth may temporarily react sensitively. The active ingredients used here are carbamide peroxide as well as hydrogen peroxide.
Good to know: Even with advanced caries, toothache can occur with hot, sweet or cold.
Acid as a risk factor for enamel degradation
Acid is considered a major risk factor for enamel degradation and thus for sensitive teeth. Accordingly, frequent consumption of acidic foods and beverages (e.g. fruit, fruit juices, vinegar dressings) can also promote the development of sensitive teeth. Stomach acid (e.g., in reflux disease, or frequent vomiting as a result of an eating disorder) can also attack tooth enamel and result in sensitive teeth.
Important “acid traps” at a glance:
Acidic foods (e.g., fruit, salad dressing with vinegar).
Acidic beverages (e.g. fruit juices, soft drinks, wine)
Stomach acid (e.g., heartburn or bulimia)
Certain medicines (e.g. acetylsalicylic acid)
Find out more about enamel degradation here.
Important: If in doubt, consult your dentist if your teeth are sensitive.
Painful teeth: typical triggers
Teeth sensitive to cold, toothache with sweets, teeth sensitive to heat – sensitive teeth have many “faces”. Here you will find an overview of typical triggers for complaints (sorted by frequency):
- Cold food
- Cold drinks/ drinks with ice cubes
- Inhaling cold air
- Consumption of sugary foods
- Hot food
- Hot drinks
- Sour or salty foods
Sensitive teeth – what to do?
If you tend to have sensitive teeth, the first step should be to take a close look at your toothbrushing habits. For example, it is often too much pressure when brushing or the use of a toothbrush with bristles that are too hard that can promote the development of exposed tooth necks and thus sensitive teeth. The use of a suitable toothpaste for sensitive teeth can also help to strengthen and protect the enamel and thus “desensitize” the teeth.
The following measures are thus available for “self-treatment”:
- Replace toothbrush with hard bristles – there are special toothbrushes designed specifically for sensitive teeth.
- Use appropriate toothbrushing technique and avoid too much pressure when brushing teeth.
- Use special toothpaste for sensitive teeth
Toothpaste for sensitive teeth – what is important?
A suitable toothpaste for sensitive teeth can reduce pain sensitivity. Stannous fluoride or potassium nitrate, for example, are used as desensitizing agents in toothpastes. As a rule, pain sensitivity can be reduced after a short time with regular use.
Ask your dentist for advice on this.
Dental measures for sensitive teeth
In some cases, dental measures to desensitize sensitive teeth may also be indicated.
For example, the local application of fluoride-containing varnishes or gels can close the canals responsible for the transmission of pain (cervical sealing).
If no improvement is achieved even in this way, reconstruction or a change in the shape of the tooth structure can be performed. In some cases, root canal treatment may be necessary as a last resort.
Ask your dentist for comprehensive advice on this.
Avoid acidic foods and beverages
Acids attack the tooth enamel. This promotes the breakdown of tooth enamel and thus the development of sensitive teeth. Anyone who wants to prevent or already suffers from sensitive teeth should therefore be cautious with acidic foods and beverages such as fruit, fruit juice, vinegar and lemonade.
Avoid pain triggers
If you are currently suffering from sensitive teeth, it is advisable to avoid typical “pain triggers” such as hot or cold foods and drinks as well as sweets until the pain sensitivity has been resolved.
Improve dental care technique
Anyone who tends to have pain-sensitive teeth should “fine-tune” their dental care technique. This is because strong pressure when brushing teeth is a frequent cause of the problems. The so-called “sweeping technique” or “red-to-white technique” is recommended: the toothbrush is moved in a kind of wiping motion from the gums to the tooth.
Important: Use a toothbrush with soft bristles to avoid causing more damage.
In addition, the right toothpaste can also make an important contribution to sensitive teeth. Recommended are fluoride-containing dental care preparations that strengthen the tooth enamel and also contain special ingredients.