Sensitive Teeth

Sensitivity is a common problem that occurs when eating or drinking hot or cold food. Some people experience short-term, mild pain, while others suffer more severe bouts of discomfort. It can be a warning sign of underlying or developing oral health problems and you should visit your dentist if you experience pain on a regular basis.

People of all ages can be affected. Figures show that it is more common in women than men, being most common in people aged between twenty and forty years of age.

What are the causes of sensitive teeth?

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the protective enamel surface of the tooth becomes damaged or worn, leaving the dentin layer beneath containing the living tissue exposed. Sensitivity is more common along the gum line and the tips of the teeth. The causes include:

  • Brush abrasion: Toothbrush abrasion is caused by brushing too hard, leading to enamel wear and the dentin becoming exposed.
  • Dental erosion: Erosion is caused by eating and drinking acidic foods and drinks. These foods cause the enamel to become thin and worn, increasing the risk of sensitivity.
  • Receding gums: When the gums recede or shrink this can cause the tooth roots to become exposed, leading to sensitivity.
  • Gum disease: This causes gum recession and damage to the bone tissue supporting the gums and teeth.
  • Teeth grinding: Clenching or grinding the teeth damages the protective enamel layer of the teeth.
  • Bleaching: Teeth whitening or bleaching can cause temporary sensitivity.
  • Fracture: A cracked or fractured tooth can cause sensitivity.

When does tooth sensitivity occur?

Sensitivity is most common when eating or drinking hot or cold foods, or acidic foods or drinks. Some people notice symptoms when their teeth are exposed to very cold air.

What can I do at home to stop sensitive teeth?

There are numerous oral hygiene products designed for people with sensitive teeth. Using sensitive toothpaste twice a day can help to ease pain and there are also toothpastes that can be applied directly to the teeth to prevent pain.

Should I avoid certain things?

Most people who have sensitive teeth find that drinking or eating hot or cold foods causes them pain, so it may be best to avoid these triggers. Using a straw to drink and eating ice cream with a spoon may help. If you experience pain when you brush your teeth with cold water, try using lukewarm water.

Should I see my dentist?

If you have sensitive teeth and you experience pain on a regular basis, your dentist can check to see if there is any underlying cause and suggest treatments or oral hygiene products that could help.

How can a dentist help me?

When you see your dentist they will and ask about your symptoms. Your dentist may suggest a de-sensitising product to ease pain. Fluoride gels and varnishes can also help. It can take some time for sensitivity to ease and you may need to see your dentist a few times. In many cases, if pain persists, it may be necessary to root-fill the tooth.

Preventing sensitivity

  • Brush twice a day using fluoride toothpaste.
  • Use a toothbrush with soft bristles.
  • Choose sensitive toothpaste; ask your dentist or dental hygienist for recommendations.
  • Avoid eating sugary foods and drinking fizzy drinks between meals.
  • See your dentist every 6-12 months for a check-up.
  • See your dentist if you have bruxism.


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