Even with your best efforts, your teeth are susceptible to wear and tear and other problems. Here, we explain what to look out for and the best course of action. If you have sensitive teeth, you’ll probably experience occasional discomfort or pain when eating or drinking cold, hot, sweet and sticky or acidic foods, or even when you breathe in cold air or brush your teeth. Tooth sensitivity can mean anything from having the occasional mild twinge to severe pain and discomfort that lasts for hours. It can also be a warning sign of dental problems.
What causes it? Sensitive teeth can be caused by: ◆ Incorrect brushing – excessive and overly vigorous brushing can wear away enamel, exposing the underlying dentine, which contains nerve branches. ◆ Tooth erosion and/or decay. ◆ Gum recession or gum disease. ◆ Cracked teeth.
◆ Tooth grinding – grinding your teeth will wear away enamel. ◆ Some dental procedures can result in temporary sensitivity.
What you can do Gently brushing with desensitising toothpaste can reduce sensitivity within a few weeks in most cases. If you have used the toothpaste consistently for one month and your teeth are still sensitive, consult your dentist to find out what’s causing the sensitivity. While some cracks, breaks and chips are obvious, there’s a condition called ‘cracked tooth syndrome’ where teeth have fractures that are too small to be seen even on X-rays. Sometimes the crack is below the gum line. The first sign of cracked tooth syndrome is usually a sore or sensitive tooth somewhere in your mouth.
What causes it? Front teeth usually break due to a knock, an accident or during biting. Back teeth can also be fractured by a knock but are much more likely to crack from forces applied by the jaws slamming together rapidly, while playing sport, for example, especially if there is already a large hole or filling.
Other forces occur during sleep because some people grind their teeth with a much greater force than they would ever do when awake.
What you can do The most effective thing you can do is to look after your teeth to preserve their strength so they are not as susceptible to fracture. You can reduce the risk of cracked teeth by: ◆ Trying to eliminate grinding and clenching
habits during waking hours. Relaxation exercises may help. ◆ Trying to prevent dental decay and having it treated early – heavily decayed and heavily filled teeth are weaker than teeth that have never been filled. ◆ Not chewing hard objects, like bones and ice cubes. ◆ Not chewing hard foods such as pork crackling and grainy bread. ◆ Asking your dentist for a nightguard or splint, if you think you grind your teeth at night. Teeth grinding, known as bruxism, is the excessive grinding, gnashing or clenching of the teeth that is not a part of normal chewing movements. If you have bruxism you may grind your teeth at night or unconsciously clench your teeth during the day. It can cause a range of oral health problems such as: ◆ Cracked tooth enamel. ◆ Broken teeth. ◆ Excessive wear and tear on the teeth. ◆ Broken restorations like fillings and crowns. ◆ Strains on the joints and soft tissue of the jaw.
What causes it? A combination of physical and psychological factors are believed to contribute to the condition. It may be triggered by: ◆ Anxiety, stress, or tension. ◆ Mental concentration. ◆ Abnormal anatomy of the teeth or jaws (including high spots on fillings) that can cause an improper occlusion (or bite). ◆ Certain medications.
How you’ll know you’re doing it Usually your sleeping partner – or even someone who sleeps in a nearby room – will first notice the grinding and gnashing sounds you make while you sleep. Other signs include: ◆ Headache, jaw or ear pain. ◆ Aching teeth, particularly upon waking. ◆ Aching and/or stiffness of the face and temples. ◆ Tightness in your jaw muscles. ◆ Clenching the jaw when angry, anxious or concentrating. ◆ Tooth sensitivity. ◆ Broken, cracked or chipped teeth. ◆ Abnormal alignment of teeth caused by uneven tooth wear. ◆ Flattened and worn tooth surfaces. ◆ Loose or wobbly teeth.
◆ Tooth indentations on the tongue. ◆ Damage from chewing the inside of your cheek.
How to fix it If you think you may be grinding your teeth, see your dentist as soon as possible for treatment.
A bite splint can provide relief from some of the symptoms if you have mild to severe grinding behaviour. Worn at night, the splint is made from moulded hard plastic that fits over the upper or lower teeth so you grind the appliance and not your teeth.
Other treatments that may help to manage teeth grinding include stress management therapy, relaxation techniques and regular exercise.
Biofeedback is a treatment option for people who primarily clench their teeth during the day. Electronic monitors are used to measure tension in the jaw muscles and this can help you learn how to relax muscles and reduce tension.
Wear a mouthguard when playing and training for sport if there is a risk of mouth injury. For some sports you will need a full-faced helmet or face guard.