Sensitive Teeth Causes and Treatment Options

Do you feel discomfort when you eat ice- cream or drink cold beverages? Or a sharp pang when you sip hot liquids? If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes,’ then you have sensitive tooth or teeth.

According to the Academy of General Dentistry, almost 40 million Americans experience tooth sensitivity. There could be several causes of sensitive teeth such as gum disease, cracked tooth, enamel erosion, bruxism, tooth decay, etc.


Tooth sensitivity is the common term used for dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity occurs due to thinning of enamel or recession of gums.

Thin enamel and receding gums expose the dentin to the oral cavity which exposes the nerve endings of teeth. When the exposed nerve endings come in contact with hot, cold or sour food or liquid, patient experiences discomfort or pain.

Fortunately, there are remedies for tooth sensitivity. Some people have teeth more sensitive than others. In such cases, you have to identify the food which causes sensitivity (assuming you have near perfect teeth with no gum problem) and avoid it.

Sensitive teeth causes

Tooth sensitivity can happen to anyone. Sensitivity can be temporary or chronic. The number of teeth affected also varies from individual to individual. A single tooth can be sensitive or multiple teeth.

Brushing too hard

Brushing too hard or using a hard bristle toothbrush for daily brushing could be one of the leading causes of sensitive teeth. When you are applying more force than necessary, you are harming the enamel and your gums.

With time, the enamel which protects the underlying dentin becomes thin and exposes underlying nerve endings or the hollow tubes which contain the nerves.

When the hot, cold or sour food comes in contact with teeth, they result in sensitivity and discomfort.

Teeth grinding at night

Bruxism or teeth-grinding causes attrition of enamel if left untreated. Loss of enamel exposes the dentin and the nerve endings which make teeth sensitive.

Usually night- grinders will experience full mouth sensitivity since more or less, all teeth worn out due to grinding.

Eating foods with high acid content in excess

Consuming citrus fruits or drinking carbonated soft drinks in excess causes erosion of the enamel thereby leading to tooth sensitivity.

Many people prefer drinking carbonated beverage instead of water. When this becomes a habit, tooth sensitivity is bound to follow.

Gum disease

Receding gums is common in old people, but if you do not follow proper oral care regime, even you may have receding gums at a much young age. The recession of gums exposes the root of the tooth which is covered by cementum.

Cementum is not as strong as enamel. Loss of cementum exposes the dentin and causes tooth sensitivity in such a case. The sensitivity could be localized or generalized depending on the number of teeth affected. (2)

Excessive plaque

If you do not brush and floss regularly and properly, then there will be excessive plaque build-up which will cause the enamel to wear away. When this happens, it becomes one of the several causes of sensitive teeth.

Using over the counter mouthwash

Brush, floss, rinse is the norm but do you use any mouth rinse that is available? You should not do so. Many mouth rinses contain alcohol, which is harmful to the enamel.

Alcohol causes erosion of enamel. Make sure to use the mouth rinse recommended by your dentist or buy a fluoridated mouth rinse.

Cracked tooth

A cracked tooth can be one of many causes of sensitive teeth. If you have a cracked tooth, the dentin in majority cases is exposed and causes tooth sensitivity.

Cracked tooth also causes pain and not just sensitivity. So, you will have to let your dentist decide if the tooth requires restoration or extraction.

Tooth decay or old fillings

Tooth decay causes sensitivity by exposing the dentin in the initial stages of decay. An existing filling may become worn out and chip off, making way for oral cavity liquids to enter.

The bacteria can seep in through these small crevices and cause acid buildup and loss of enamel leading to tooth sensitivity.

Post-dental treatment

After scaling, root canal treatment or crown placement, teeth may feel sensitive. But this is temporary, and depending on the procedure, sensitivity subsides in a day or two.

Treatment of tooth sensitivity

Identifying the main cause of sensitive teeth is essential. Once you know the cause, you can take some measures at home which will help you maintain good oral hygiene and reduce the likelihood of tooth sensitivity. Some of the treatment options are –

  • The first remedy will be using a soft bristle brush which is gentle while brushing. Use dentist recommended toothpaste and not the fancy whitening toothpaste available in the market.
  • Do not bleach at home very frequently. Frequent bleaching causes wearing of enamel over time.
  • Reduce consumption of foods and drinks having high acid content.
  • Visit your dentist twice yearly for regular check-up and cleaning of teeth.

If you have a cracked tooth or worn out tooth or bruxism, then you will need dental treatment to eliminate tooth sensitivity. You should visit your dentist for regular check-ups so that if anything is wrong, he will be able to point out in the early stages. For example –

  • Your dentist may advice desensitizing toothpaste if all your tests are clear and still you experience tooth sensitivity. (1)
  • If you have bruxism, depending on the severity, your dentist will suggest treatment for you which can range from mouth guard worn at night to crowns for all teeth.
  • Filling or extraction of a cracked tooth will depend on the status of the cracked tooth.
  • If there is a worn out filling, your dentist will replace it for you.
  • In the case of gum disease, your dentist will decide your line of treatment accordingly.

Over to you

Ther could be different causes of sensitive teeth. It is vital to know what is causing sensitivity to your teeth. Your oral care is in your hands. If you follow proper oral hygiene regime, then you can keep the majority of dental problems at bay.

For example, poor oral hygiene causes decay and gum disease which in turn cause tooth sensitivity. If your tooth sensitivity is making it difficult to eat, talk to your dentist and get the treatment done as soon as possible.


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