My teeth have been very sensitive lately. Does that mean I have a cavity?
Not necessarily. There are many causes of tooth sensitivity, including decay, but the most common forms of sensitivity usually don’t require more than simple measures you can do at home. It’s wise to have it checked by us to ensure there are no serious concerns, such as decay or a tooth with a crack. Decay that is causing sensitivity is usually serious enough to require, at a minimum, a restoration of some sort, often a crown. A cracked tooth is usually sensitive to biting pressure as well as temperature, usually cold. It requires a crown to fix, and in some cases, a root canal filling.
Other causes can be some tartar control toothpastes, or tooth whitening agents. But the most common cause of sensitivity is acid exposure on the teeth. Acid is the most common flavoring ingredient in soft drinks, candy, cough drops, sport drinks, and an amazing array of dietary products. Read labels, and look for acids of any name, such as citric acid, phosphoric acid, maleic acid, etc. One of the most common conditions we have been seeing recently are teenagers with tooth sensitivity accompanied by enamel erosion on the chewing surface of molars, making divot-like holes on the cusp tips of the molars, and associated with a history of eating sour candies. Gummy bears, Sour Patches, Jolly Ranchers, etc can all cause tooth sensitivity, but, worse, can eat away the enamel of your teeth.
Another common cause of acid-caused sensitivity is a difficult-to-diagnose exposure to stomach acid. Many people aren’t aware of a gastric reflux condition until confirmed by a physician, but stomach acid is strongly acidic, and can cause very painfully sensitive teeth, often on one side only, usually the side they sleep on. That allows acid to pool around those teeth at that side, exposing them to high concentration of hydrochloric acid. The good news about acid-caused sensitivity is that it can improve dramatically when the offending acid is removed (eliminate soft drinks, etc).