Sensitive Teeth – A Complete Guide


Have you ever taken a sip of a cold beverage that resulted in pain you feel inside your teeth? That’s called tooth sensitivity and it’s not fun. For many, it is the most painful and uncomfortable feeling they have ever had happen in their mouths.


Tooth sensitivity can result from direct damage to the tooth itself such as decay or cracks. In most cases, the increased sensitivity is due to a breach on the surface level of your teeth. Dentin is the second layer of each tooth, found directly beneath the enamel. Enamel is the hardest substance found in our bodies and is the outermost layer of our teeth above the gum line.


Dentin itself is comprised of microscopic tubules filled with a plasma like fluid that radiate outwards from the core of your tooth known as the pulp. The pulp is comprised of connective tissue, blood vessels and nerves. It is the sensory hub of your tooth. When the fluid within the dentin tubules is stimulated it leads to nerve irritation at the core of the tooth. This irritation means pain for you.


Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common oral health problems reported to dental health professionals. Although symptoms manifest themselves in various ways, the key indicator is a short lasting sharp pain followed by aching. This pain is commonly experienced during brushing, flossing and while consuming hot or cold foods and beverages.

Anatomy of a Tooth

Anatomy of a Tooth


What Leads to Tooth Sensitivity?


Sensitive teeth is most commonly the result of enamel loss. Once this protective later becomes compromised it does not regenerate, leaving the dentin exposed. Loss of enamel can be a product of both what we eat as well as how we treat our teeth. The following are common causes of enamel loss:


  • Highly acidic and sugary beverages and foods such as soft drinks, fruit juices and sugar laden foods

  • Dry mouth – low salivary production and flow

  • Acid reflux and other gastrointestinal problems

  • Excessive use of medications such as Aspirin and antihistamines

  • Grinding your teeth due to stress or involuntarily during sleep

  • Physical wear and tear to the tooth’s surface due to aggressive tooth brushing, flossing and chewing on hard surfaces

  • Eating disorders such as bulimia that involve frequent vomiting


Poor oral hygiene habits are another common cause of enamel loss over time. This occurs when tooth decay brought about by excessive plaque as well as infections caused by bacteria in your mouth run amuck. Poor oral hygiene also affects the gums, which can recede over time due to gingivitis and periodontal (gum) disease. As this occurs, the roots of your teeth also become exposed. Eventually the cementum can become compromised, leading to further sensitivity and tooth pain.


Beyond strong daily oral hygiene habits, regular dental visits and cleanings can ensure that you not only protect your enamel, but that any loss is identified and prevented at an early stage.


What Triggers Sensitive Teeth?


For some, tooth sensitivity could be triggered by an ice filled beverage while others feel it when flossing. There are a bevy of things that can bring on pain and discomfort and at varying degrees. Tooth sensitivity can really impact the quality of life for certain people who deal with pain daily and abruptly. The most common trigger for most is cold, however all of the following stimuli can trigger pain;


  • Temperature related items ranging from food and drink (cold and hot) as well as cold air

  • Sensitivity to touch during tooth brushing and during dental visits

  • Items with very high sugar content

  • Acidic items within foods and beverages


A lot of common and widely indulged items fall within those categories above, making preventing and treating sensitivity paramount in avoiding it.


Preventing and Treating Sensitive Teeth


Understanding why our teeth become sensitive and the causes go a long way in helping people understand how to deal with it. People may note that certain items or situations bring about more pain than others. They should aim to mindfully limit them whenever possible. Being forthcoming with your dentist will help them recommend and determine the best treatment and habits for you. Discuss what brings about your sensitivity as well as its severity. There are many products and in office treatments that can help over time and make a significantly difference in stopping sensitivity.


Brushing daily or as required with a specially formulated toothpaste can be all you need to eliminate sensitivity. Desensitizing toothpastes contain compounds that block stimuli from travelling through the dentin and works better after a few applications. You can ask your dental professional for their recommendation. Adopting better dietary choices will also make a big difference in what your teeth and body systems are exposed to.


Prevention and control is by far the best long-term treatment plan. This begins with daily habits such as brushing twice, flossing once and using mouthwash. It is imperative that you use the softest toothbrush you can find and brush all parts of the teeth gently and completely with a fluoridated toothpaste. The fluoride will help to remineralize your enamel. Changing your brush every two months is also recommended. Learn good flossing technique and be sure to get each space between all your teeth.


If toothpaste is ineffective, the next course of action will likely be in office desensitizing agents including fluoride varnish and plastic resins. This involves a more focused and robust treatment for your tooth. If that is not enough over time a dental procedure including fillings, crowns and root canals may be required as a more permanent solution. More advanced cases may require gum treatment to fix recession.


Sensitive teeth should not be ignored and are nothing to be ashamed of. Discussing it and proactively dealing with it will make your life a lot easier and will impact your oral and overall health significantly and that is something that you definitely deserve.


Souces: Know Your Teeth, Wikipedia, ADA, eHow

Images: Randy Glasbergen, Culpepper DDS

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