Monthly Archives: January 2017

7 Biggest Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Does drinking an ice cold beverage cause dental discomfort? Or do you find yourself wincing when you brush or floss? You could have what’s known as tooth sensitivity.

You don’t have to put up with the pain, however. There are things you can do to lessen tooth sensitivity and improve your oral health, says Leslie Seldin, DDS, a dentist in New York City and an associate professor of dentistry at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.

Here’s why you could be experiencing this mouth malady — and steps you can take to find relief for sensitive teeth:

1. You brush with too much gusto. Sometimes tooth sensitivity comes from brushing with too much force or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. Over time, you can wear down the protective layers of your teeth and expose microscopic hollow tubes or canals that lead to your dental nerves. When these tubes are exposed to extreme temperatures or acidic or sticky foods, tooth sensitivity and discomfort can result. The simplest solution is to switch to a toothbrush with softer bristles and to be gentler when brushing.

2. You eat acidic foods. If the pathways to your nerves are exposed, acidic foods such as tomato sauce, lemon, grapefruit, kiwi, and pickles can cause pain. But avoiding these foods can help you avoid any tooth discomfort.

3. You’re a tooth-grinder. Even though tooth enamel is the strongest substance in your body, grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel. By doing so, you expose the dentin, or the middle layer of the tooth, which contains the hollow tubes that lead to your nerves. Talk to your dentist about finding a mouth guard that can stop you from grinding. The best guards are custom-made to fit your bite, Dr. Seldin says.

4. You use tooth-whitening toothpaste. Many manufacturers add tooth-whitening chemicals to their toothpaste formulas, and some people are more sensitive to them than others. If your toothpaste contains whitening agents, consider switching to one that doesn’t.

5. You’re a mouthwash junkie. Like whitening toothpaste, some over-the-counter mouthwashes and rinses contain alcohol and other chemicals that can make your teeth more sensitive — especially if your dentin’s exposed. Instead, try neutral fluoride rinses or simply skip the rinse and be more diligent about flossing and brushing.

6. You’ve got gum disease. Receding gums, which are increasingly common with age (especially if you haven’t kept up with your dental health), can cause tooth sensitivity. If gum disease or gingivitis is the problem, your dentist will come up with a plan to treat the underlying disease, and may also suggest a procedure to seal your teeth.

7. You have excessive plaque. The purpose of flossing and brushing is to remove plaque that forms after you eat. An excessive buildup of plaque can cause tooth enamel to wear away. Again, your teeth can become more sensitive as they lose protection provided by the enamel. The solution is to practice good daily dental care and visit your dentist for cleanings every six months — or more frequently if necessary.

a Dental Health For Any Age

Awareness of the oral-health conditions you are likely to face at different stages of life can help you stay a step ahead of potential dental problems, and build a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Dental Health: Pregnancy and Children

Expectant mothers can give children a head start by eating an array of healthy foods and taking calcium supplements while pregnant. Also, taking folic-acid supplements decreases the risk of a baby being born with a cleft lip and palate. After the baby’s birth, parents should wipe the infant’s gums with a soft, damp cloth after feedings, as this helps prevent the buildup of bacteria. When teeth come in, typically at six months old, parents can use a soft children’s toothbrush twice a day to clean the teeth and gum line, where decay starts.

Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Dental Association, tells parents there is a risk for tooth decay even in children as young as nine months. “Parents need to pay attention to baby teeth — they aren’t disposable,” says Dr. Hayes, who also recommends parents brush their children’s teeth until they are six years old. “This instills good habits and a routine.” Hayes notes that prior to six years old, children aren’t able to brush their own teeth effectively. Parents can begin taking children to a pediatric or family dentist around one year of age. Another important habit parents can establish is to avoid feeding kids sweet and sticky foods. The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as cheese and crackers, for tooth-friendly snacks.

Dental Health: Adults

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report nearly one-third of adults in the United States have untreated tooth decay. Early detection is important: In the early stages, tooth decay is often painless and can be picked up only during a dental exam. A visible sign of the separate dental problem of periodontal disease is loss of bone around the teeth and requires a dentist’s intervention as well.

Risk factors for dental health are often tied to overall health. Diann Bomkamp, a clinical dental hygienist and president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, cites smoking and certain medications as risk factors for periodontal disease. “There’s a direct relation between gum disease and other diseases,” says Ms. Bomkamp. “If you’re on medications for high blood pressure or epilepsy, or have diabetes, visit the dentist on a more routine basis.” (To learn more, read Dental Health and Overall Health.) If you are taking medication for these conditions or have diabetes, talk to your dentist about how often you should go for checkups, as it may be best to go in more often than every six months. Additionally, people of all ages can drink fluoridated water to reduce the likelihood of tooth decay. Most cities have fluoride in tap water — however, the majority of bottled waters do not. If your water source doesn’t have fluoride, talk to your dentist about fluoride supplements.

Dental Health: Older Adults

Even as people are living longer, more older adults are keeping their natural teeth. However, older adults still need to visit a dentist regularly, as they are at increased risk of developing throat and oral cancers (especially those who smoke or drink alcohol heavily). Bomkamp notes that older adults also have an increased risk of dry mouth and may be on a number of medications that affect oral health. For those with dentures, Bomkamp finds, “Many older patients don’t think they need to go to the dentist, but they might not be cleaning their dentures correctly.” If your gums are red and swollen, check in with your dentist, it may be a sign your dentures don’t fit anymore.

The Tooth-Friendly Diet

What you eat affects your mouth not only by building healthier teeth and gums, but also by helping prevent tooth decay and gum disease. Learn how to eat the best diet for your teeth, including the foods to eat, beverages to drink, and what to avoid.

What you eat affects your mouth not only by building healthier teeth and gums, but also by helping prevent tooth decay and gum disease. While a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats will benefit your overall oral health, there are a few standout foods and nutrients that can really boost it.

Teeth and Calcium

Mom said it when you were in grade school, and she was right on this one: Drinking milk builds strong bones and teeth. Calcium is vital in childhood and through your teens, when teeth are formed, but the value of this nutrient doesn’t stop once you get your wisdom teeth. A diet with adequate calcium may prevent against tooth decay, says Dr. Leonard Anglis, DDS. When a diet is low in calcium, as a majority of Americans’ diets are, the body leeches the mineral from teeth and bones, which can increase your risk of tooth decay and the incidence of cavities. A study that appeared in the Journal of Periodontology found that those who have a calcium intake of less than 500 mg, or about half the recommended dietary allowance, were almost twice as likely to have periodontitis, or gum disease, than those who had the recommended intake.

The jawbone is particularly susceptible to the effects of low calcium. It can weaken because of low calcium intake, which in turn causes teeth to loosen, leaving you at greater risk for gum disease.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends 1,000 mg of calcium daily for women younger than 50 and for men of any age, and 1,200 mg for women over 50. Calcium is found in dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt; in fish, including sardines with bones and salmon; and in some vegetables, including kale and broccoli.

Eating two to four servings of dairy per day will help you meet the RDA for calcium.

Teeth and Vitamin C

The body needs vitamin C to repair connective tissue and help the body fight off infection. No surprise then that a study at the State University of New York at Buffalo showed that those who eat less than the recommended 75 to 90 mg per day are 25 percent more likely to have gingivitis than those who eat three times the recommended daily allowance. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal diseases, and it causes the gums to become red from inflammation, swelling and bleeding easily.

Eating one piece of citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruits, tangerines) or a kiwi daily will help you meet the RDA for vitamin C.

Teeth and Fruits and Vegetables

Crunchy fruit and veggies — like apples, pears, celery, and carrots — are excellent for your teeth in two ways. The crisp texture acts as a detergent on teeth, wiping away bacteria that can cause plaque. Plus these foods require a lot of chewing, which increases the production of bacteria-neutralizing saliva.

Teeth and Tea

While tea may stain teeth, studies at the University of Illinois College of Dentistry have shown that compounds in black tea can destroy or suppress the growth of cavity-causing bacteria in dental plaque, which can help prevent both cavities and gum disease.

Teeth and Water

Drinking plenty of water benefits teeth as it helps rinse away both bacteria and the remnants of food that bacteria turns into plaque. Tap water is better for teeth than bottled because it contains fluoride, which prevents tooth decay.

Foods to Avoid

Sugary snacks, especially gummy candies and hard candies that stick in your teeth, are at the top of every dentist’s list of foods to avoid. Regular soda provides a double hit to teeth, combining sugar with acids.

Even foods and drinks that are good for your teeth, like milk, contain sugars. No matter what you eat, it’s important to brush and floss afterward — or at least to rinse your mouth with water. Brush twice a day using either a manual or power toothbrush, and remember to visit a dentist at least twice a year for checkups.

A Tips to Nighttime Oral Care

Keeping your teeth strong, your gums healthy, and your smile bright is not just a day job; your mouth needs protection at night too. Donna L. Zak, D.D.S., of Zak & Frankel Dental Associates in New York City, explains: “Nighttime oral hygiene is important because while we’re sleeping, we’re not swallowing, so the bacteria in our mouths increase throughout the night. The nighttime goal is to avoid giving the bacteria anything to break down and feed off.”

There are three basic steps to nighttime hygiene: brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash. Dr. Zak says the order doesn’t matter, as long as the food particles and plaque are removed. However, she adds, “My preference is for brushing, flossing, and then mouthwash because I feel that brushing first makes it easier to floss.”

Steps for Basic Nighttime Oral Hygiene:

Brushing

Brushing your teeth helps protect them from plaque buildup and tooth decay. Using a soft-bristled brush and toothpaste that contains fluoride, start brushing your teeth at a 45-degree angle to the gums. The correct method, according to the American Dental Association, is to brush back and forth gently in short (tooth-wide) strokes. The ADA suggests brushing the outer tooth surfaces first, then working your way through the inner tooth surfaces and the chewing surfaces of your teeth. The association also recommends using the “toe” of the brush to clean the backs of your front teeth with gentle up-and-down strokes.

Whether you should brush right after dinner, before bed, or both depends on your susceptibility to dental disease. Because recent studies have shown that the risk for dental disease varies from person to person, dentists are now following medical models of dental disease to determine their patients’ susceptibility and the type of care they need. “People who are at a low risk for cavities and gum disease can certainly wait until bedtime to brush (though the timing isn’t as crucial for them). Higher-risk patients would benefit from both an after-dinner and a bedtime brushing,” says Dr. Zak.

Flossing

Cleaning between your teeth with floss allows you to reach plaque that you can’t remove with a toothbrush. Flossing at least once a day will also help prevent periodontal (gum) disease. To floss properly, the ADA recommends using an 18-inch-long strand, winding most of it around your middle fingers (to manage the floss as it gets dirty), and then holding the remaining floss tightly between your thumbs and forefingers. Next, use a gentle rubbing motion to guide the floss between your teeth. As you move toward the gum line, curve the floss into a C shape against each tooth, rubbing back and forth against the tooth as you go. When you get to the root of the tooth, slide the floss into the space between the gum and the tooth and keep rubbing gently. Then slowly move the floss away from the gum with an up-and-down motion, and repeat for the rest of your teeth, including the backsides of your last teeth on the top and bottom.

Dr. Zak says that flossing is important because it enables you to remove plaque while it’s still soft: “Once the plaque hardens and forms tartar, only a professional cleaning by a hygienist or dentist can remove it. Patients who are very susceptible to gum disease or tartar buildup may want to consider flossing twice a day.”

Rinsing With Mouthwash

Rinsing with a therapeutic mouthwash will help keep your breath fresh, your teeth plaque- and cavity-free, and your gums safe from gingivitis. Most mouthwashes are sold over the counter, though some require prescriptions. Follow the instructions on the packaging for best results.