To a varying degree, tooth sensitivity affects nearly half of the population. As people with sensitive teeth know, it can come and go, increasing its irritability. Tooth sensitivity results from enamel erosion or gum recession, both of which are unfortunate results with aging. Underneath the enamel of your teeth is a material called dentin, which can become inflamed by exposure. When we say tooth sensitivity, we really mean dentin hypersensitivity.
Gum recession can leave the roots of the teeth improperly exposed. As tooth roots have no protective enamel, the layer of dentin around them triggers pain when struck by hot or cold liquid, or by an acidic food or drink.
No particular group is more susceptible to tooth sensitivity, except slightly older people and those with eating disorders that lead to a higher acid content in the mouth. Typically, tooth sensitivity starts with either diet or hygiene. If you eat a lot of high-acid foods or if you have a sweet tooth, you may be increasing your risk of enamel erosion. In contrast, if you brush and floss regularly you can decrease your risk.
Another factor to consider is the kind of toothpaste that you are using. Some toothpastes are more abrasive than others, and can contribute significantly to tooth sensitivity. Your dentist can introduce you to valuable resources for home use, such as low-abrasion toothpastes, brush-on fluoride gels and fluoride rinses. In the dental office we help reduce the sensitivity with fluoride varnishes and plastic resins.
You should ask your dentist what to do about your sensitive teeth. She will want to make sure your symptoms are related to actual dentin hypersensitivity and not something more serious.