Oral Care and Health Daily

Suddenly Sensitive? What Your Tooth Pain Really Means

Getting tooth pain with every bite doesn''t necessarily mean you have a mouth full of cavities. Diag...

It can happen out of the blue: There you are, enjoying your first bite of a refreshing sorbet, when a zing of pain surges through your tooth and makes you shudder. And suddenly you’re sitting there, spoon in hand, scratching your head and wondering what the heck brought on this overnight rebellion.

The good news: If you recently got your teeth cleaned, this may be why. Routine cleanings often spark temporary sensitivity.

But if you didn’t, there are a few other possibilities, says Dr. Gigi Meinecke, a dentist in Potomac, Md. Consider what you were eating: If it was indeed sorbet (or ice cream, hot chocolate, etc.), you may be sensitive to temperature. This type of sensitivity can signal one of these underlying problems:

  • You have a lost or broken filling
  • Your gums are receding
  • You have a cavity
  • The nerve of a tooth is damaged
  • You grind or clench your teeth at night (or during the day, if you’re under a lot of stress)

But if the texture of the food was more like that of toffee or a granola bar, your teeth may be reacting to chewing pressure. In which case, it could possibly mean that:

  • You have a broken tooth
  • You’re suffering from abscessed teeth (that’s when there’s an infection at the root of your teeth)
  • You grind/clench your teeth

To make matters worse, some habits -- like brushing too hard or consuming acidic drinks -- can aggravate tooth sensitivity and make it a chronic issue. Stop it in its tracks before it’s too late!

What You Can Do
Here are some steps that will fix the problem.

  • See your dentist pronto. If sensitivity persists for longer than a day or two, it’s best to see your dentist to get to the bottom of the problem and get proper treatment. Your dentist can also apply a desensitizing agent that will work quickly. “The agents placed by the dentist typically provide relief within 48 hours,” says Meinecke.
  • Avoid aggravating foods and drinks. If your sensitivity is caused by gum recession, you can significantly decrease the problem just by avoiding aggravating foods and drinks. (Think: nuts, crusty breads, frozen items, hot beverages.)
  • Try dental wax. If a broken tooth or lost filling is to blame and you can actually see or feel the hole, then dental wax -- which can be found in the drugstore’s oral care aisle -- can help temporarily, says Meinecke. “The wax behaves like a bandage or occlusive dressing, decreasing temperature sensitivity and smoothing sharp areas that can injure the tongue.” But this is just a stopgap measure until you can get to your dentist for a permanent fix -- one that will make your teeth less sensitive for good.
  • Use the right toothpaste. Try using desensitizing toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate, strontium chloride or potassium citrate, says Meinecke. And be patient: Toothpastes typically take three to four weeks of consistent use to make a difference.

Want more tips for treating tooth sensitivity? Check out our recent article, Best Ways to Soothe Sensitive Teeth.

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