Teeth Sensitivity: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Your complete dental guide to help you avoid sensitive teeth and enjoy life

Painful to eat ice cream? We've all been there

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem among people of all ages. Sudden discomfort and pain that can specifically shoot up due to cold or hot temperatures is referred to as ‘dentin hypersensitivity’.

The nature of the pain can be temporary or chronic. It can also affect one tooth, several teeth or even all of the teeth. There can be a number of sensitive teeth causes, however, the most common reason is neglecting oral health and hygiene regimen.


Looking for a dentist?
Find dentists near you and book your next appointment online

What can cause sensitive teeth?

When the dentin of the tooth is exposed, it can lead to tooth sensitivity. It gets exposed due to irreversible damage caused to the outer layer, and usually happens when the enamel (where the tooth and gum meet) is much thinner.

This area contains microscopic dentinal tubules. These tubes basically transmit the temperature when the food is consumed to the nerve cells. As a result, we feel the hot and cold sensation in the teeth which can often lead to sharp pain. A tooth sensitive to hot and cold can cause a lot of discomfort.

If you have an issue with the tooth sensitive to cold, then avoid chilled foods. Same is the case with extremely hot foods.

What can be some of the common causes of dentin exposure?

A few of our unconscious habits might be leading to dentin exposure, hence, causing a sensitive tooth. These oral hygiene habits, which may be as routine as an improper brushing technique, can cause damage to the teeth.

Some of the usual reasons of dentin exposure and sensitive teeth causes are:

Brushing too hard or harshly

Brushing too hard can be one of the reasons for dentin exposure. Using a toothbrush with hard bristles can lead to wearing down the enamel, exposing the second, more sensitive layer of the teeth. It can also lead to receding gums.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing two times a day for two minutes every time to avoid teeth sensitivity and other dental problems. The purpose is brushing the teeth, not ‘scrubbing’ them.

If you cannot be mindful of that all the time, a great way of ensuring that you are cleaning your teeth and not scrubbing is to invest in an electric toothbrush. Most of these devices have pressure sensitivity mode built in, that ensures that the outer layer of your teeth is protected. Even if one prefers a slightly hard-bristled brush, they would still like electric toothbrushes as they have hard bristles even at soft mode. An electric brush must be used carefully.

Receding gums

Another common reason for tooth sensitivity is receding gums. Gums that can become inflamed due to poor hygiene and oral bacteria can become more sensitive to temperatures.

Gums have the significant role of holding the teeth and connecting them to the jawbone. If the plaque settles down in the areas between gums and teeth due to neglected oral hygiene, it can pull the gums away. Receding gums make the surface of the root exposed, hence making it more sensitive.

Cracks in the teeth

Biting on hard food items, chomping ice, and chewing on very hard nuts can cause superficial fractures in the enamel. These fractures, or ‘craze lines’, widen and get deep over time, creating passages for hot or cold food to directly go in the nerves. It can then be a cause of tooth sensitivity.

If these eating habits continue, it can cause the teeth to chip and break. Nuts have great nutritional value and should be a part of your daily food routine, but choose ones that are fresh and easier to chew through.

Grinding the teeth or clenching them over a long period can also cause the outer layer of the teeth to break down, exposing the inner dentin. If you have a habit of teeth grinding and struggle to get a hold of it, wearing a nightguard is recommended.

Home-made teeth whiteners

Home-made teeth whitening products and toothpastes which contain baking soda have silicon dioxide. It abrades the enamel, leading to it wearing down, causing tooth sensitivity. Excessive use of such products can lead to harm eventually.

Alcohol-based mouthwashes Using alcohol-based mouthwashes can lead to hypersensitivity in the teeth. Some over-the-counter mouthwashes have high acidic content, which can dry the mouth and make teeth more sensitive. Teeth become more yellow with dentin exposure as well. Hence, you need to be mindful of the ingredients of mouthwashes and try to avoid the ones with alcohol content.

Consumption of foods with high acid content Consuming foods with high acid content like pickles, tomatoes, carbonated ingredients, and citrus fruits can lead to the erosion of enamel and cause sensitive teeth.

The cause of majority oral diseases is bacteria, which grows in the presence of acid. Consumption of acidic foods increases the risk of tooth decay and gingivitis. Carbonated drinks have carbonic acid in them, which erodes the top layer of the teeth. Dentists recommend that if someone is going to consume carbonated drinks, it should be done with meals so that the increased saliva production neutralizes it.

After getting dental procedures Dental treatments and procedures like deep cleaning, crown placement or restoration of the tooth can also cause sensitive teeth, albeit temporarily. Similarly, tooth sensitivity after filling only lasts for a while and goes away within 4 to 6 weeks.

Tooth sensitivity can also affect your consumption of food, as you are most likely to be scared before consuming it rather than excited. It can also lead to eating disorders in the longer run. Hence, when you experience it at first, immediately seek help from a dental health practitioner.

How can sensitive teeth be diagnosed?

To avoid the situation from worsening, it is important that you act proactively and book an appointment with the dentist the first time you experience tooth sensitivity. A dental health practitioner will be better able to guide you regarding the situation of your teeth and gums.

While cleaning your teeth, the dentist also conducts a visual review of your dental health. They will touch your teeth with instruments to inspect them for sensitivity, or even recommend an x-ray if needed. You may also experience tooth sensitivity after filling. To save your teeth from more complex medical procedures and tooth loss, see a dentist at the earliest opportunity.

How to treat sensitive teeth?

Wondering how to fix sensitive teeth? Sensitive teeth are treatable. However, the treatment may vary depending on the state of the teeth. Depending on the initial examination, the dentist will usually recommend one of the following:

  • A dentist might recommend you a desensitizing toothpaste. These medicated toothpastes have ingredients that ease tooth pain and decrease sensitivity. However, you have to apply it several times to see a difference.
  • You can also be recommended to use a fluoride gel. It is referred to as an ‘in-office’ technique that strengthens tooth enamel. Fluoride also helps in reducing transmission of sensation.
  • If the state of the teeth is too deteriorated, the dentist might recommend an inlay, crown or bonding. They are used to fix a flaw that leads to sensitive teeth.
  • If the gum tissue has been lost from the root, the dental practitioner will recommend a surgical gum graft. The procedure will protect the root of the tooth and help ease sensitivity.
  • If the sensitivity is persistent and is leading to sharp pain, root canal might be the only option. This treatment is recommended when other options don’t work as it eliminates the problem completely.
  • Adopting a proper dental hygiene routine will help relieve sensitive-tooth pain. Open up to your dentist about your problems and ask them how to fix sensitive teeth. Keeping these in view, they will suggest a proper oral health routine.

Looking for a dentist?
Find dentists near you and book your next appointment online

Frequently Asked Questions

What foods should you avoid if you have sensitive teeth?

If you have sensitive teeth, you must stay away from:

  • Soda is one of the top foods you must stay away from. The ingredients in carbonated drinks irritate teeth, leading to pain and discomfort.
  • People with teeth sensitivity lack the top layer that protects teeth and hence have tooth sensitive to hot and cold. Hence you must avoid foods like ice-creams. They are not only icy, but also have a high sugar content, which can worsen the situation.
  • Just like a tooth sensitive to cold situation, you must also avoid hot foods. If you are consuming coffee or tea, add a little milk to decrease the acidic component.
  • Avoid hard candy, lollipops and suckers. Being loaded with sugar, biting on them with sensitive teeth can cause them to chip or break.
  • Also avoid sticky candies, or foods that are hard to take off from teeth. They can stick to your teeth, making it extremely hard to clean, hence causing more damage in the longer run.
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, lemon, grapefruit and pineapple are not the best friend of a person with sensitive teeth. Same is the case with tomatoes. Although these foods have health benefits to offer, they also have high acid content that causes teeth to erode.

The only way to save your sensitive tooth is to take timely measures. Take care of your oral hygiene and immediately consult a dentist once you feel any discomfort.

Looking for a dentist?
Find dentists near you and book your next appointment online