We can control a lot of what goes on in our mouths when we're healthy, but accidents, illness and the effects of aging can alter our teeth and gums quite suddenly or slowly over time. Some causes of tooth sensitivity outside of our control include:
- Trauma to the teeth -- An impact injury can crack teeth through the enamel, exposing the dentin and nerves.
- Aging -- Enamel wears down over time and gums can begin to recede. Periodontal, or gum disease, which exposes tooth roots, is more common as we age.
- Teeth grinding -- Whether a result of temporary stress or an ongoing joint dysfunction such as TMJ, the impact of teeth grinding against each other damages enamel, cracks teeth and dental work and can weaken gum tissues, all leading to nerve exposure and sensitivity.
- Addiction and eating disorders -- Heavy drinking and drug use (especially methamphetamines, or meth) not only erode teeth and damage gums on their own, but also lead to neglect of oral hygiene in many addicts. Bulimia and anorexia often involve forced vomiting, which brings strong digestive acids in contact with teeth, making them weak and sensitive.
- Illness and medications -- Diseases of the body can affect how well nutrients get absorbed and can lead to dental problems such as dry mouth. Diabetes is linked to tooth sensitivity and even gastrointestinal or stomach issues such as GERD bring acids up from the stomach through the esophagus, causing tooth erosion and pain. Medication also can cause dry mouth, and chemotherapy drugs, among others, can make nerves in the mouth very sensitive.
- Dental work and treatments -- Some individuals experience considerable tooth sensitivity from routine teeth cleanings, after getting braces and while undergoing gum disease treatments such as scaling and root planing.
If teeth are eroded or gums are receding, nerves are open to zaps of pain from air and hot and cold food and drinks. Sometimes nerve pain is ongoing even when the mouth is closed, empty and at rest. People with sensitive teeth can even begin to fear their favorite foods and opening up for a good laugh because they never know when it will hurt.
What can be done to ease or relieve the pain, and can anything prevent it? Next we'll look at desensitizing.