Brushing after meals and flossing daily is the best way to prevent most dental problems, including sensitive teeth. Poor oral hygiene leads to plaque buildup and if not removed while soft, this buildup will turn to tartar or calculus. If these hardened tartar formations aren't removed regularly by a dental professional -- usually every six months or sooner if needed -- teeth can begin to decay near the gum line and the gums themselves will become inflamed. Inflammation of the gums, or gingivitis, then leads to periodontitis, or more serious gum disease. And at this point, roots of teeth are becoming exposed, teeth are increasingly decaying as enamel breaks down and bacteria gets inside tooth pockets and teeth, and tissues and nerves start feeling the pain of having their outer protections removed. Neglecting oral hygiene often leads to tooth, or dentin, sensitivity.
Unfortunately, trying too hard to keep teeth clean and to reverse damage by "making up for" poor brushing and flossing habits also makes teeth sensitive. Brushing too hard, using too much baking soda or other abrasives to clean, and whitening and attempting to rinse away teeth problems with strong concoctions designed to freshen breath and protect can do a lot more harm than good. Even brushing too often can be damaging [source: ADA].
We talked about the skin of the body earlier and how it is one of the first and best lines of defense against infection until it is compromised by cuts, abrasions or poor bodily hygiene leading to open sores or cracks, and the teeth are similar in this way. If you gently rub and wash skin with circular motions and slight pressure, blood circulates well, skin remains unbroken and moisture levels stay where they should be. Overdoing it with a loofah or stiff cloth to get rid of caked on dirt after a hard day of work or skipping a few too many days in the shower makes the skin dry, red and although mostly undetectable with the human eye, it also creates innumerable small cuts and abrasions in the protective layers of the skin. Over time, skin can break down and become sensitive. Not many people would use extra force to clean sunburned flesh or scraped knees, for instance, but using a firm toothbrush on sensitive teeth and gums is actually pretty similar and probably much more common. An instinct to save the teeth by getting them cleaner can make the roots and dentin much, much more sensitive and broken down.
Other tooth-sensitizing habits within our control include drinking acidic juices, sugar and carb-loaded soda and spicy foods, among others, without brushing afterward, allowing the corrosive agents to eat their way through the protective layers of teeth and gums. Alcohol is another culprit in getting access to our tooth nerves.
But it isn't, by any means, completely our fault if we develop sensitive teeth. Many factors are beyond our control, and sometimes, sensitivity happens despite our best efforts at doing no harm. We'll put the blame elsewhere, next.