If you're finding your teeth can't handle brushing, eating or drinking as well as they used to, you may find they're simply more sensitive than they used to be. Tooth sensitivity is a common issue affecting at least 40 million adults in the United States at some point in their lives, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. An increase in sensitivity doesn't always mean you have a cavity; there are several other reasons you could find your teeth aching.
If your teeth are sensitive and you don't have a cavity or a chipped or cracked tooth, the enamel on your teeth may have worn down. Enamel is the strongest part of your teeth and is meant to protect the more sensitive dentin underneath. Dentin is made up of hollow tubes, so if it loses its enamel protection, food and toothbrush bristles can irritate the nerves, causing pain or sensitivity. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush or brushing too firmly can wear your enamel down over time. While you need to brush thoroughly, you don't need to scrub, so choose a softer toothbrush and lighten your touch a bit if you think you may be brushing too hard.
Tooth erosion is another common cause of sensitivity because it makes it easier for stimuli to reach the nerves. Eating too much starch or sugar eats away at your teeth over time and can wear them down. Acidic foods and drinks, like soda, can also be a culprit. Some medical conditions, such as bulimia and gastroesophageal reflux disease, can lead to erosion as well. To protect your teeth, brush them shortly after you eat or drink as often as you can.
Your gums could be the culprit for your increased sensitivity, particularly if your teeth feel the most sensitive near your gum line. Gingivitis or the natural gum recession that comes with age leaves more of the root of your tooth exposed. This root has a protective layer called cementum over the dentin, but cementum isn't as strong as enamel, so any parts of your teeth that used to be covered by your gums and are now exposed will likely be more sensitive than you're used to.
If you've been using whitening products and you're noticing your teeth being more sensitive, the whitening agents could be to blame. Many whitening products are peroxide-based and these can lead to sharp pains if they're used too often or in dosages that are higher than you can handle. The peroxide can soak through your enamel and irritate the nerves, and this is what causes the sensitivity. Fortunately, sensitivity due to whitening typically subsides quickly after you discontinue treatment.
If you're having trouble with sensitivity that doesn't seem to be going away or sensitivity that's coupled with any kind of pain or visible tooth damage, make an appointment to see your dentist as soon as possible. Your dentist can help you determine exactly what's causing the problem and suggest things that can help, such as having dental work or fluoride treatments done, avoiding certain foods with extreme temperatures or textures or switching to a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. Contact a clinic, like Smile Makers Dental, for more help.