Q: My teeth have all of a sudden become very sensitive the past few days and I don’t know why. They always feel like they are tingling and it hurts a lot. Do you know what could be causing this?
- Megan P.
A: Although I don’t have enough information to give you a precise answer, I can give you some general advice that will be useful for all of us that, at one point in our lives, have suffered from tooth sensitivity or pain.
When dentists and doctors go about diagnosing the source of pain, they use a method referred to as differential diagnosis, which is a systematic method used to identify unknowns, using the process of elimination.
So in your case, the first differential is this: Is the pain associated with all your teeth or just one tooth? Things that happen to a single tooth are typically singular events, such as a cavity or the need for a root canal or a cracked tooth. These are things that would not happen to all the teeth at the same time.
Then, by the process of elimination, we’ve eliminated the three possibilities above. Chances are that, because all your teeth have become suddenly sensitive, it is caused by something that is more global. For example, maybe you have just discovered a favorite new food and are eating it every day. This new food could be high in acid which, in a matter of a few days, could start making all of your teeth sensitive. Sudden changes in eating and other habits can cause this.
Another example of a more global causative factor in sensitive, tingling teeth would be a sudden increase in stress. For example, perhaps you just received word that a friend is gravely ill and your cortisol levels have increased. Increased cortisol levels stimulate grinding, or bruxism, which would definitely cause all of your teeth to all of the sudden become sensitive.
Another potential culprit is that you’ve just contracted a sinus infection and both your right and left sinuses are very infected and you’ve been blowing your nose a lot. Within a matter of days, all of your upper back teeth would become sore, painful and very sensitive to sudden motion and impact – such as walking or standing up.
It could also be a combination of global causative factors. For example, it could be the combination of the sudden interest in acidic food along with a change in the weather and cold ambient temperatures. Breathing in cold air after having consumed a lot of acidic foods would definitely make all your teeth tingle or ache. Or you could be whitening your teeth and drinking cold water afterward – another combination that could be the culprit.
I mention all of this just to give you a frame of mind with which to approach your symptoms. The best thing to do with this knowledge is to go see your dentist and to have a discussion about what has changed and what the source of this pain could be.
When you’re at the dentist, give him or her as many data points as possible. Think about what factors have changed recently and which ones have stayed the same to try to narrow down the cause of the sensitivity. This will help you attain the best diagnosis. But remember, sometimes to reach the best diagnosis, it is necessary to eliminate as many of the potential culprits as possible.
Mark Burhenne DDS
Photo courtesy of darrenfelgate
What other questions do you have about sensitive teeth? What’s been your experience with sensitive teeth? Let me know in the comments below — I read each and every one.