What is Sensitive Teeth

Posted on October 4, 2010 in Dental Articles

What is Sensitive Teeth

Having sensitive teeth can mean anything from getting a mild twinge to having severe discomfort or even by breathing cold air. It can also be an early warning sign of more serious dental problems.

What causes Sensitive Teeth?

PictureSensitive teeth occurs when the underlying layer of your teeth, the dentin, becomes exposed as a result of receding gum tissue (the protective blanket that covers the tooth roots). The roots contain thousands of tiny tubules leading to the tooth’s nerve center (the pulp). These dentinal tubules (or channels) allow the stimuli — for example, the hot, cold, or sweet food — to reach the nerve in your tooth, which results in the pain you feel.

Factors that may lead to sensitive teeth includes:

1.        Brushing too hard. Over time, brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and cause the dentin to be exposed and gum recession.

2.        Tooth decay near the gum line.

3.        Recession of the gums. As gums move away from a tooth due to conditions such as periodontal disease, the root surface is exposed.

4.        Your age. Gum recession is common with age.

5.        Plaque build-up. Accumulation of plaque on the root surfaces can result in gum disease and cause sensitivity.

6.        Gum disease (gingivitis) Inflamed and sore gum tissue may cause sensitivity due to the loss of supporting ligaments, which exposes the root surface that leads directly to the nerve of the tooth.

7.        Cracked teeth. A cracked tooth may allow bacteria from plaque to enter the pulp causing inflammation.

8.        Teeth grinding. Grinding or clenching your teeth may wear down the enamel and expose underlying dentin.

9.        Tooth whitening products or toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide. These products are major contributors to sensitive teeth.

10.   Recent routine dental procedures. Sensitivity can occur following teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and tooth restoration. Sensitivity caused by dental procedures is temporary, usually disappearing in four to six weeks.

How to prevent Tooth Sensitivity?

1.        Maintain good oral hygiene. Practise proper brushing and flossing techniques to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth.

2.        Use a soft bristled toothbrush. Remember, it takes 2 to 3 minutes to properly brush all your tooth surfaces. Most people spend less than 45 seconds brushing teeth, thus leaving areas untouched where plaque can build up.

3.        Use an electric toothbrush to moderate your toothbushing strokes

4.        Use desensitizing toothpaste, which you may need to try different brands to see which works best for you. With regular use you should notice a decrease in sensitivity.  

5.        Watch your diet. Frequent consumption of highly acid foods can gradually dissolve tooth enamel and lead to dentin exposure and aggravate teeth sensitivity.

6.        Use fluoridated dental products. Daily use of a fluoridated mouth rinse can decrease sensitivity.

7.        Avoid teeth grinding. If you grind or clench your teeth, wear a mouth guard at night.

8.        See your dentist at regular intervals. Get professional tooth cleaning, oral hygiene instructions, and fluoride treatments every six months


If you still feel discomfort, talk to your dentist. There may be some dental procedures that may help reduce sensitivity, including the use of:

a)       Tooth-coloured fillings to cover exposed root surfaces

b)       Fluoride varnishes applied to the exposed root surface

c)       Dentin sealers applied to the exposed root surface