Sensitive Teeth: What Is It and What Helps?

When you have sensitive teeth you may experience sudden teeth pain or discomfort when eating and drinking. This can also occur when you brush your teeth or while out on colder days. Sensitive teeth is also known as dentin hypersensitivity, as it is the nerves within dentin that relay sensations back to the brain.

The Role of Dentin in Teeth

Dentin is one of four dental tissues that make up the structure of the teeth and sits just below the tooth enamel. Within the dentin are tubules containing nerve fibers, and their role is to transmit sensations back to the brain. These relayed sensations help prevent us from doing things such as biting down too hard on foods that might damage our teeth.

The problems from teeth pain caused by teeth sensitivity begin when the dentin becomes exposed. The extent of dentin hypersensitivity will differ from one person to another. It can be a short, sharp pang of discomfort for some people, while for others this teeth pain can be severe.

What Causes Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Once the tooth enamel starts to erode, the dentin becomes more exposed to everyday sensations. Tooth decay is a major factor in the erosion of tooth enamel. Cavities, a chipped or cracked tooth, gum disease, receding gums and worn fillings can also see the onset of tooth sensitivity. 

A poor oral hygiene routine significantly increases your risk from cavities and tooth decay. It is important to brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss daily and maintain regular dental appointments to prevent the dental issues that can lead to dentine hypersensitivity.

There are other risk factors which can increase the risk of the dental issues which cause teeth sensitivity. These include:

  • Brushing your teeth too hard and using a hard-bristled toothbrush
  • Using abrasive toothpastes, such as those used for whitening teeth
  • Eating or drinking acidic items that can erode tooth enamel
  • Grinding your teeth

What Are the Symptoms?

The pain and discomfort from sensitive teeth is in response to certain stimuli, often involving exposure to changes in temperature. Symptoms of dentin hypersensitivity include:

  • Sharp pangs of teeth pain when eating or drinking hot and cold food and drinks
  • Tooth sensitivity to the cold or colder breezes when out and about
  • Discomfort from dental products that have more abrasive qualities like teeth whitening toothpaste and mouthwash
  • Discomfort caused by acidic foods and drinks
  • Sharp pain or discomfort when pressure is applied to a tooth

You do not have to accept tooth sensitivity, as it can be treated. By recognizing the symptoms, you can consult with your dentist about what may be causing the issue and how to address your sensitive teeth. 

Treating Dentin Hypersensitivity

If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, your dentist can conduct an oral examination. They can then rule out any other potential reasons for your tooth discomfort before addressing the sensitivity you are experiencing. Treatments can vary, but you will likely be provided with home remedies first to reduce and hopefully eliminate your sensitivity.

Treatment options include:

A desensitizing toothpaste – Your dentist may recommend a toothpaste suitable for you which works by preventing the stimuli that cause your sensitivity reaching the tooth. This is not an instant cure, as it will require several applications of desensitizing toothpaste before you may start to notice the effect.

Fluoride gel – This is a dental product your dentist may apply to help strengthen the enamel on sensitive teeth. This helps prevent the sensations reaching the dentin that cause your sensitivity.

Bonding – Your dentist may recommend applying a bonding resin to sensitive root surfaces. Bonding can be used to repair cracks in the teeth, if this is a cause of your tooth sensitivity. Similarly, crowns and fillings can be used to repair tooth damage that is causing sensitivity.

A root canal – When other methods to treat sensitivity are not working or the pain is severe, your dentist may advise a root canal. This procedure is seen as the most successful of them all in treating persistent dentin hypersensitivity.

A gum graft – Receding gums can be a cause of tooth sensitivity and is often the result of gum disease. As the gums recede, the tooth roots can become exposed and cause your teeth to become sensitive to various stimuli. In this instance, gum tissue is taken from elsewhere in the oral cavity and grafted over the affected area to protect the exposed roots.

The sudden pain and discomfort caused by sensitive teeth can be very unpleasant and start to wear you down. Your dentist can help you receive the treatment to prevent such teeth pain. However, sensitivity can take time to resolve.

Your dentist can also offer you advice on ways to prevent your teeth from becoming sensitive.

Preventing Sensitive Teeth

It is always best to try and prevent a problem from arising where possible. The following are ways to help protect your teeth from sensitivity.

Good oral hygiene – Regular teeth brushing, flossing and dental check-ups are key to preventing dental problems

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush – Brushing with a hard or stiff-bristled toothbrush can damage the tooth enamel and expose the underlying dentin.

Do not brush after eating – As a rule of thumb you should wait an hour after eating before brushing your teeth.

Avoid acidic foods and drinks – Foods containing high levels of sugar can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Also try to avoid or limit fizzy drinks, fruit juice and alcohol. If you do have a drink you know is acidic, use a straw to help bypass contact with the teeth.

Avoid abrasive dental products – Some toothpastes and mouthwash contain abrasive chemicals that can harm your teeth.

Teeth sensitivity can become a debilitating issue. Teeth pain from sensitivity can be severe for some. However, a dentist can help diagnose dentin hypersensitivity and recommend changes to your oral hygiene routine along with other methods to help treat and ultimately prevent sensitive teeth.