Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment for Sensitive Teeth

If you have sensitive teeth, it can be treated. The type of treatment you need will depend on the cause of your sensitivity.

Do you feel pain or discomfort occasionally after taking a bite of ice cream or a drink of hot coffee? Does brushing your teeth or flossing make you wince from time to time? If so, you are not alone. Pain caused by hot or cold foods could signal that you have a cavity but could also indicate that you have sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity is what it sounds like; it is discomfort or pain in the teeth in response to certain stimuli, like cold or hot temperatures. It can be a temporary or chronic issue. It can affect only one or two teeth or all of the teeth. If you are experiencing sensitive teeth, there can be many different causes. However, in most cases, sensitive teeth can be treated by changing your oral hygiene routine.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

There is a layer of enamel that protects the area above the gum line. Under the gum line, there is a layer called cementum, which protects the root. Underneath both of these is dentin. When the dentin loses its protective coatings, it allows hot, cold, acidic, and sticky foods to reach the nerves in the teeth.

The enamel is the outer layer that protects the teeth. Some people have thinner enamel, which makes them naturally more prone to having sensitive teeth. However, in many cases, the enamel is worn down due to:

  • Brushing teeth too hard
  • Grinding teeth at night
  • Using a hard toothbrush
  • Eating or drinking acidic foods or drinks regularly

However, certain conditions can lead to tooth sensitivity. Some of these conditions include:

  • Gum recession – This condition can leave sections of a tooth exposed and unprotected and cause sensitivity.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) – This is a condition where stomach acid moves up into the esophagus. Over time, this can wear down teeth. Also, any situation that causes frequent vomiting can cause acid to wear down tooth enamel.
  • Broken teeth and tooth decay – When teeth are broken, chipped, have worn-down fillings and crowns, these situations can leave the dentin exposed, causing sensitivity. Typically, the sensitivity will only be felt in one particular tooth or region of the mouth.

How Sensitive Teeth are Diagnosed

Make an appointment with your dentist if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity for the first time. Your dentist will look at your teeth’ health and check for potential issues such as loose fillings, cavities, gum disease, or recessed gums.

Treatment for Sensitive Teeth

If you have sensitive teeth, they can be treated. The type of treatment you need will depend on the cause of your sensitivity. There are several treatments your dentist may suggest, depending on your situation. Some of these include:

  • Fluoride gel – This is a technique performed at the dentist, strengthening the enamel and reducing the transmission of sensitivity.
  • Desensitizing toothpaste – This type of toothpaste contains compounds that block the delivery of sensation from the tooth’s surface to the nerve.
  • Crown, bonding, or inlay – Any one of these may be used to correct a defect or decay that results in sensitivity to the teeth.
  • Surgical gum graft – If the gum tissue has been lost from the root, a surgical gum graft will protect the root, thus reducing sensitivity.
  • Root canal – If tooth decay is causing your sensitivity, your dentist may recommend a root canal to eliminate the problem.

If your sensitivity is caused by one of the other conditions mentioned above, there may be other medical treatments needed to treat your sensitivity correctly.

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Updated: February 2, 2022

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