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All you need to know about sensitive teeth and braces

February 9, 2024
All you need to know about sensitive teeth and braces

We all know the feeling. You’re taking a bite out of a nice spicy curry or enjoying a cold drink. Suddenly, you feel a sharp twinge of pain in an area of your mouth that’s never been an issue before.

Welcome to the world of tooth sensitivity. For some people it’s brought on by cold air or hot food; for others it’s every time they brush or use mouthwash.

But what role, if any, might your braces be playing? Read on if you want to find out.

Why are my teeth sensitive? 

Teeth sensitivity can have a wide variety of causes, including cavities, worn fillings, gum disease or cracked teeth, so it is always worth going to a general dentist to get it checked out. More common causes include:

Excessive brushing

When you brush your teeth too hard or too often, you can brush a little bit of your gum line away in the process.

Gums protect the nerve endings of your teeth, so removing them causes your teeth to become extremely sensitive.

Receding gums

It’s also worth remembering that our gumlines naturally tend to recede as we age. There’s a reason why elderly people used to be called “long in the tooth”.  However, there is no advantage in letting them or making them recede quicker!

Thinning enamel

Tooth sensitivity can also occur when the enamel on our teeth starts to deteriorate (perhaps because you grind them at night or have too much acid in your diet). Just like when we venture outdoors without a jumper or coat, this can leave the little nerve endings nestled near the roots of our teeth a little too exposed to the elements.

Can braces cause sensitive teeth? 

Braces can cause a certain amount of discomfort during their first few days. Some teeth may be slightly sensitive to temperature too after they are first placed or after they are adjusted or “tightened”. Such sensitivity or discomfort should be easily managed with simple pain medication such as paracetamol or ibuprofen and should subside within a few days. If any tooth pain or sensitivity lasts more than 14 days without improving, please seek advice from your orthodontist. Your orthodontist may recommend that you see your general dentist to help diagnose if there is a serious problem.

But while anyone can suffer from teeth sensitivity, braces patients face a greater challenge when it comes to keeping their teeth clean. Without frequent brushing, regular flossing, lots of water and an occasional mouthwash, food can easily get trapped between teeth and braces, and cause bacteria to breed and feed near the gums.

Can you get braces with sensitive teeth? 

If you’re already living with sensitive teeth, the news that you need braces can be concerning.

But while braces may well exacerbate the issue throughout the first day or two, your teeth and gums should adjust pretty quickly, so long as you treat them with care.

Do clear aligners make teeth sensitive?

As mentioned above, sensitive teeth are usually caused by reduced tooth enamel (the protective coating on your teeth) or actions like excessive brushing – not by receiving clear aligner treatment. And what’s more, there’s research to suggest that people who opt for clear aligner treatments are actually less likely to suffer from sensitive teeth. If you’re looking at orthodontic treatment and have sensitive teeth, talk to your orthodontist about your options.

Can my retainer cause tooth sensitivity?

Retainers aren’t usually the cause of teeth sensitivity – but there are some other reasons you might feel your teeth are a little more vulnerable when wearing them. This might include:

  • If you’re wearing your retainer for the first time: If you’re new to the world of retainers, you might find your teeth feel more sensitive while they adjust to their new position
  • If don’t have to wear your retainer 24/7: If your retainer isn’t needed full-time (or you forget to wear it regularly), you may notice it more when you do wear it.
  •  If your retainer doesn’t fit properly: All retainers should be specially fitted to your mouth by an orthodontist, however if you’re experiencing significant discomfort, it may need refitting.
  • If your retainer is dirty: If you don’t clean your retainer properly, plaque can build-up and can cause pain.

Why are my teeth so sensitive with aligners?

It’s likely you’ll experience some sort of sensitivity or discomfort when undergoing orthodontic treatment, including when wearing aligners. This is normal as your teeth are being gently guided into position. Everyone’s pain threshold is different, but if you’re concerned or feeling significant sensitivity over a prolonged period, talk to your orthodontist.

How do you treat sensitive teeth? 

Since tooth sensitivity can have a number of causes, it has a number of solutions as well. One or more of the below may well work for you – but to find out which, we suggest seeing a general dentist.

Avoid overbrushing

A gentle hand is always best. Remember that vigorous side-to-side brushing right at the gum line doesn’t just remove bacteria, it attacks tooth enamel as well. Or perhaps try an electric toothbrush.

Try a new toothpaste

Talk to your chemist about different types of toothpaste. Some over-the-counter products are specifically designed for more sensitive teeth. Please ask your orthodontist, general dentist or hygienist for advice and what might be best for your individual case.

Avoid acidic or sugary foods

Any foods that attack your enamel are ultimately working to expose the nerve endings in your teeth. So avoid soft drinks, sour or sweet lollies and high-sugar carbs if you’d like to avoid occasional flashes of pain.

Talk to your dentist

Depending on the precise nature of the problem, your general or family dentist has lots of products that might help do the trick. These include sealants, fluoride gel, desensitising paste, or even a protective nightguard to protect your teeth if you grind them.

More complicated solutions might include fillings, a root canal, a surgical gum graft, or applying adhesive restorations to the sensitive root surfaces.

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