Tooth sensitivity (sensitive teeth)

Teeth sensitive to cold

Sensitive tooth cartoonTooth sensitivity is the pain that you may feel on one or many teeth. We mostly refer to the pain that is stimulated by eating hot or cold foods, drinking hot or cold drinks, consuming sweets, or even by breathing cold air from the mouth.

When speaking of tooth sensitivity, we do not refer to the intense pain that might feel in the mouth due to caries, fractures or infections.

Causes

Root of tooth exposed after gum recessionThere are many problems that may cause teeth to become sensitive. The pain can come and go, but in most circumstances, ignoring the causes can lead to other oral health problems that may be more serious.

Some sources of tooth sensitivity:

  • vigorous brushing: brushing with a hard bristle toothbrush, or brushing with too much pressure wears away the enamel over time; the tooth layer under the enamel, called dentin, has nerves which are stimulated by hot and cold, as well as sweets;
  • gum recession: where the gum level recedes and exposes the root of a tooth; the root doesn't have a protective enamel layer and may be sensitive to temperature changes; gum recession is mostly caused by hard brushing or by gum disease;
  • periodontitis, which is an advanced stage of gum disease that starts by the inflammation of the gum, and then leads to the destruction of the supporting tissue of a tooth, including its bone; the gums therefore become less attached to the tooth, exposing its root;
  • fracture: a cracked tooth can expose the internal layers (dentin) or the root, which causes sensitivity;
  • acidic diet: foods with high acid content, if consumed excessively, they may wear out the enamel over time; those acid foods include soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, citric fruits or ice tea;
  • bruxism: tooth grinding causes stress on tooth enamel and wears it out over time, which exposes the underlying dentin or root, or may even fracture the tooth, which either way causes sensitivity;
  • mouthwashes; certain mouthwashes are acidic and long term use can wear away the enamel;
  • recent dental treatments: fillings, tartar scaling, root canals or crowns, can cause temporary pain to the restored tooth for a period of a few weeks to a few months;
  • Tooth whitening; the products used to whiten teeth can cause a temporary pain; this sensitivity disappears once the treatment is finished.

Some more serious problems like tooth decay and/or tooth abscesses, may induce mild or very intense pain on teeth. This category of pain is different from tooth sensitivity and requires treatments such as fillings, root canal, crowns, or even extraction depending on the severity.

Prevention

Guy brushing teeth daily

To avoid tooth sensitivity, it is possible to incorporate good habits to our daily lives:

  • maintain good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing daily;
  • use a toothbrush with soft or ultra-soft bristles;
  • reduce the consumption of acidic foods as well as sugary foods and drinks;
  • if suffering from tooth grinding, talk to the dentist about the possibility of wearing a bite splint (also called night guard);
  • when going to the dentist regularly for check-ups, he or she can detect early problems that can lead to tooth sensitivity.

Treatments

White fillings to correct abrasionWhen teeth are sensitive in a mild manner, and there is no advanced wearing of enamel, it is possible to control it with tooth sensitivity toothpaste, such as Sensodyne, or a remineralizing paste, such as MI Paste.

Other treatments may include:

  • using non-acidic mouthwash, preferably containing fluoride;
  • fillings to cover places on teeth where enamel is worn away or mildly receded gums on roots.

More severe symptoms or persistent sensitivity may need other treatments such as root canals or crowns.

References

  1. American Dental Association (Sensitive teeth - Causes and treatment).
  2. Know Your Teeth (Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?).

The information above should be used as a reference only. Any medical decision should not be done before consulting a health care professional.

The masculine gender has been used without prejudice to make reading easier.


Dental and oral problems

  Abfraction Abrasion Abscess Ankylosis Anodontia Attrition Broken fillings Bruxism Candidiasis Canker sore (aphthous ulcer) Cavity Cold sore (oral herpes) Crossbite Denture irritation Denture stomatitis (prosthetic stomatitis) Dry Socket Erosion Fluorosis Gingival hyperplasia Gingival pocket Gingivitis Gum disease Gum recession Halitosis Jaw problems Hyperdontia (supernumerary teeth) Hypocalcification Hypodontia Impacted tooth (tooth impaction) Leukoplakia Lichen planus Malocclusion Micrognathia (micrognathism) Mucocele Oligodontia Oral Cancers Overbite Overjet Pericoronitis Periodontal pocket Periodontitis Plaque Prognathia (prognatism) Resorption Retrognathia (retrognatism) Sensitive teeth Sleep apnea Tartar Tooth discolouration Torus Trismus Ulcer Xerostomia