Teeth Sensitivity: Causes, Types, and How To Fix It
Tooth sensitivity (and sometimes downright pain) is the most common dental discomfort people experience with their teeth. Teeth sensitivity can come in many forms and be caused by a variety of factors from genetics to your own brushing technique. Unexpected pain or discomfort when consuming hot or cold food and drinks, or when you breathe through your mouth, are common symptoms of sensitive teeth. The good news is that sensitive teeth can be treated, and with our detailed guide, you will learn the key causes, symptoms, and best practices to manage tooth sensitivity.
What Is Tooth Sensitivity?
If you have sensitive teeth, you may feel a sharp, painful sensation when you bite into ice cream, drink a cold beverage, eat hot soup, or even when you get your teeth cleaned. Sensitive teeth are more sensitive to stimuli such as hot and cold temperatures, sweet or acidic foods and drinks, cold air, and even brushing.
What Do Sensitive Teeth Feel Like?
Sensitive teeth can feel like a mild twinge or considerable discomfort. Pain can come and go, and may be worse on some occasions than others. You may not feel pain in every tooth, depending on the cause of your sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity can vary in severity, from mild irritation to excruciating pain. Figuring out what's causing your sensitive teeth is the first step to managing the problem and eliminating tooth pain. Some causes can be treated at home, while others may require professional dental care. Paying attention to when, how, and where the sensitivity occurs can help you solve the problem before calling the dentist's office.
Why Does Tooth Sensitivity Happen?
Tooth sensitivity can occur when the protective layers of the tooth are damaged, exposing the inner layers of the tooth. The root of the tooth is anchored into the jaw, and the crown is the visible part of the tooth. The enamel is the hard, white-looking layer that protects the sensitive inner parts of each tooth. The enamel is the hardest material in your body – even stronger than bone. Dentin is a layer of softer tissue which contains tiny canals or ‘tubules’. The pulp is the innermost layer of the tooth which contains the tooth's blood vessels, connective tissue and nerve. When the dentin is exposed, it can cause sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet stimuli.
If for any reason the enamel starts to wear away or erode, your tooth’s dentin is exposed. When this happens, nerve signals pass to the tooth root and from there to the brain – meaning that things like eating popsicles or drinking hot drinks, which normally don’t cause a reaction, can suddenly trigger pain.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
A range of factors can lead to tooth sensitivity, but there are few main underlying reasons: enamel loss, gum recession and external factors. The part of the tooth we can see has a layer of enamel that protects the softer dentin underneath. If the dentin is exposed, a tooth can become sensitive. This usually happens where the tooth and the gum meet and the enamel layer is much thinner. Here are some causes of sensitivity.
Causes Of Enamel Loss Include:
Causes Of Gum Recession Include:
Causes Of Teeth Sensitivity Due To External Factors:
Does Teeth Whitening Cause Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity is a potential temporary side effect of teeth whitening and is most commonly caused by the bleaching agent used to whiten teeth, exposing the microtubules on the outermost surface of teeth. These tubules, called dentinal tubules, are microscopic channels that lead from the surface of the enamel to the center of the pulp, where the dental nerves are housed. When dentinal tubules are exposed, dental sensitivity will increase. Minerals generally replenish on the teeth within a few days of teeth whitening, and once the minerals are restored, tooth sensitivity typically resolves.
How To Reduce Teeth Sensitivity
Use Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth
Using a sensitive toothpaste is a great at home solution for teeth sensitivity. If you're looking to whiten your teeth at home, using a sensitive toothpaste can help lessen any discomfort. These specialized toothpastes are available over the counter and can provide relief after a few applications. This can be extra helpful before beginning your at home whitening treatment!
Incorporate Fluoride Into Your Routine
Fluoride can help reduce tooth sensitivity by strengthening tooth enamel. Most toothpastes and mouth rinses on the market use fluoride as the active ingredient.
Use Desensitizing Gel After You Whiten Your Teeth
Lumos teeth desensitizing gel uses potassium nitrate which temporarily blocks tooth pores, allowing and expediting your teeth to rehydrate and nourish.
Be Gentle When You Brush
Avoid using hard bristled toothbrushes and opt for a softer brush instead. Too much pressure with a hard brush can erode your enamel and make your teeth sensitive. Use less pressure and the right angles when brushing your teeth with your manual or electric toothbrush to clean your teeth more effectively.
Wear a Night Guard
Stress and anger are two common causes for clenching your jaw. The most common reason for tooth sensitivity and pain is from clenching your jaw. Over time, this added stress can cause sensitivity and strain that your teeth are not meant to sustain. Grinding your teeth can also cause pain and sensitivity. People who grind their teeth often do it at night while they’re asleep, but sometimes it can happen during the day. Very often, a night guard is needed to reduce the stress on your teeth from clenching your jaw and grinding.
Get regular cleanings at your dentist! The best way to protect your enamel and find solutions for sensitive teeth is to talk to your dentist and dental hygienist. Plus, ask for topical anesthetic to be used to make you more comfortable during your dental cleanings.
When To See A Dentist
If your teeth are sensitive to hot or sweet temperatures, or you are experiencing discomfort when eating, drinking, or brushing, you may need to see a dentist. If the sensitivity is minor and does not respond to a desensitizing toothpaste, you may be able to wait a few weeks to see if the symptoms improve. However, if the symptoms are severe or getting worse, you should see a dentist right away.
Kate Hernandez, BS, RDH
Kate is a licensed dental hygienist who works in cosmetic dentistry and co-founded Lumos Smile, believing that good oral health leads to improved overall wellbeing.