Sensitive teeth; causes and treatment options

Posted .

If you pass on hot or cold drinks because you know they’ll make your teeth hurt, it may be time to talk to your dentist about the possibility that you have sensitive teeth. Sometimes other things can aggravate them, too, like sweet and sour foods or even cold air. To be able to treat these tooth twinges, it helps to know what might be behind them. Once you’ve nailed down the cause, you can find a solution.

Reasons Why You May Have Sensitive Teeth

You’re grinding your teeth

Have you ever felt pain in your teeth as you take a sip of your morning coffee or bite into your favorite ice cream? Or are some teeth more sensitive than others when you brush and floss?

Here are five reasons you may be experiencing sensitive teeth and some additional steps you can take to help ease the pain

There’s too much acid in your diet

If you already have sensitive teeth, acidic foods like tomato sauce, pickles, fresh grapefruit, and oranges could be making the problem worse. Try reducing or eliminating these foods in your diet to see if you notice a difference.

You’re brushing your teeth too hard

Perhaps the most common reason people have sensitive teeth is because they use too much pressure when they brush.

If you brush too hard for too long, you will slowly begin to wear down the protective layers of your teeth, putting them at risk for nerve exposure. If this goes on for a long time, you’re likely to experience sensitive teeth on a regular basis. To prevent this, use a soft-bristled toothbrush and apply only gentle pressure when brushing.

You’re grinding your teeth

If you’re grinding your teeth while you sleep, their protective layer may wear down over time. This can expose tissues of the teeth that may cause them to become sensitive. To prevent this, your dentist can make you a custom-fitted mouth guard that may help to reduce grinding.

You’re overusing your mouthwash

Most mouthwashes are great products, but they should be used in moderation. In many cases, mouthwashes contain a high concentration of alcohol and chemicals that can contribute to tooth sensitivity. If you think this may be causing your sensitive teeth, try switching to a non-alcoholic fluoride rinse, or stop using the mouthwash altogether.

You have receding gums or gum disease

Receding gums are often a result of aging, but if you haven’t kept up with regular teeth cleaning, flossing, or dental check-ups, you’re at increased risk. Likewise, if you have gum disease or gingivitis, you may also have sensitive teeth. Talk to your dentist and ask them to create treatment plan, which may include a procedure to seal the teeth to keep them protected.

Naturally shrinking gums

If you’re over 40, it could be that your gums are showing signs of wear and tear by pulling away from your teeth and uncovering your tooth roots. Those roots don’t have enamel to protect them, so they’re much more sensitive than the rest of your tooth.

Tell your dentist if your gums look like they’re receding. It can be a sign of other problems, like gum disease. Serious cases may need a gum graft. That moves tissue from somewhere else to cover the bare area.

A cracked tooth or filling 

A cracked tooth or filling


When you break a tooth, the crack can go all the way down to your root. You’ll notice pain when your tooth is cold. How your dentist fixes the crack depends on how deep it goes. If it’s a small crack that ends before your gums start, your dentist can fill it. If it’s below your gum line, your tooth will have to be pulled.

Dental erosion

This is loss of tooth enamel caused by attacks of acid from acidic food and drinks. If enamel is worn away, the dentine underneath is exposed which may lead to sensitivity. Gums may naturally recede (shrink back), and the roots of the teeth will become exposed and can be more sensitive. Root surfaces do not have an enamel layer to protect them.

Tooth bleaching

Some patients have sensitivity for a short time during bleaching or afterwards. Talk to your dental team about this before having treatment.

When to see a dentist?

When to see a dentist


If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days and reacts to both hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to ask your dentist to take a closer look. Sometimes sensitivity may actually be a sign of a cavity or infected tooth pulp. Be sure to tell the dentist when the pain started and if there is anything (such as applying a warm compress) that gives you relief from the pain.

If you are diagnosed with sensitive teeth, your dentist can prescribe one of a variety of treatment options, such as in-office treatments (applying a desensitizing agent or a protective coating to the teeth) and take-home products for personal use. If your tooth sensitivity is severe and persistent or it cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend root canal treatment.

What treatments can the dentist offer?

During an examination your dentist will talk to you about your symptoms. They will look at your teeth to find out what is causing the sensitivity and to find the best way of treating it. The dental team may treat the affected teeth with special ‘de-sensitising’ products to help relieve the symptoms. Fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes can be applied to sensitive teeth. These can be painted onto the teeth at regular appointments one or two weeks apart, to build up some protection. Sensitivity can take some time to settle, and you may need to have several appointments. If this still does not help, your dental team may seal or fill around the neck of the tooth, where the tooth and gum meet, to cover exposed dentine. In very serious cases it may be necessary to root-fill the tooth.

At home Simple Changes for Sensitive Teeth Relief

While you can’t replace the enamel you’ve worn away, here are 6 ways you can protect the enamel you have — as well as reduce tooth sensitivity.

Brush gently

Brush gently

Brushing too hard can impact your gums and expose your dentin, making your teeth sensitive. Use a soft bristle brush, brush up and down instead of side to side, and avoid brushing up into your gums. Or, use the battery-powered toothbrush. Just hold the bristles lightly against the surface of your teeth, angle the brush head slightly so it reaches under the gum line, and let those bristles do all the work.

Whiten naturally

Bleaching and whitening toothpastes with chemicals are tough on sensitive teeth. To whiten your teeth naturally and safely, choose a toothpaste that uses the gentle power of baking soda.

Rinse with fluoride

Fluoride helps strengthen your enamel, which can help protect against tooth sensitivity. Plus, fluoride helps protect you from tooth decay and cavities, which can also cause sensitive teeth. So, after you brush, use a fluoride rinse.

Wear a night guard

Wear a night guard

If you grind your teeth while you sleep, you’re grinding down your enamel too, which can make your teeth sensitive. Talk to your dentist about being fitted for a mouth guard to protect your teeth while you sleep.

Change your brand of toothpaste

Some toothpastes increase tooth sensitivity, including whitening toothpastes that lighten or remove stains from enamel, and tartar-control toothpastes containing sodium pyrophosphate. There are toothpastes designed for people with sensitive teeth. Be aware that these products typically must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before you notice any therapeutic benefits. (You may see benefits more quickly if you massage the special toothpaste onto your gums with your finger after brushing your teeth with it.)

Preventing tooth sensitivity: Care of Your Tooth Enamel

That’s a hard, protective layer that helps your teeth deal with everything you put them through. When it’s gone, nerve endings that cause pain are exposed. If you have sensitive teeth, it’s possible some of your enamel has worn away. To prevent or put the brakes on that damage:

Avoid acidic foods and drinks

Avoid acidic foods and drinks

Soda, sticky candy, high-sugar carbs — all of these treats attack enamel. Instead, snack on:

  • Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Plain yogurt

These will moisten your mouth and help fight acid and bacteria that can eat away at your teeth. Saliva is one way your mouth deals with them. You can also drink green or black tea or chew sugarless gum. If you do eat something acidic, don’t rush to brush. Wait an hour or so to strengthen before you scrub.

Unclench your teeth

Over time, teeth grinding wears away your enamel. Sometimes, addressing your stress can stop the problem. If that doesn’t work, your dentist can fit you for a splint or a mouth guard. If the problem is severe, you may need dental work to change your teeth’s position, or a muscle relaxant. Other options;

  • Brush your teeth last thing at night and at least one other time during the day, with fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1350ppm (parts per million) of fluoride. Consider using toothpaste specially designed for sensitive teeth. Use small, circular movements with a soft-to medium-bristled brush. Try to avoid brushing your teeth from side to side.
  • Change your toothbrush every two to three months, or sooner if it becomes worn.
  • Don’t brush straight after eating – some foods and drinks can soften the enamel of your teeth, so leave it for at least an hour before you brush.
  • Have sugary foods, and fizzy and acidic drinks, less often. Try to have them just at mealtimes.
  • If you are thinking about having your teeth bleached, discuss sensitivity with your dental team before starting treatment.
  • Visit your dental team regularly, as often as they recommend.


Who suffers from sensitive teeth?

Many people suffer from sensitive teeth and it can start at any time. It is more common in people aged between 20 and 40, although it can affect people in their early teens and when they are over 70. Women are more likely to be affected than men.

When are teeth more likely to be sensitive?

You are more likely to feel the sensitivity when drinking or eating something cold, from cold air catching your teeth, and sometimes with hot foods or drinks. Some people have sensitivity when they have sweet or acidic food and drinks. The pain can come and go, with some times being worse than others.

Is there anything I can do to treat sensitive teeth at home?

There are many brands of toothpaste on the market made to help ease the pain of sensitive teeth. You should use the fluoride toothpaste twice a day to brush your teeth. You can also rub it onto the sensitive areas. These toothpastes can take anything from a few days to several weeks to take effect. Your dental team should be able to advise you on which type of toothpaste would be best for you.