Sensitive Teeth | Causes & Treatment

What is Teeth Sensitivity?

teeth sensitivity

People experience discomfort or pain after having an icy drink, some chilled ice cream or a spoonful of something hot. Do you belong to this group? You may not be alone. While hot or cold substances could signal the presence of a cavity, it is also common in people with sensitive teeth.

Teeth sensitivity is also known as dentin hypersensitivity. The term describes a condition where a person experiences discomfort or pain in the teeth due to its being too sensitive to certain stimuli (such as extreme temperatures).

Teeth sensitivity may be a chronic problem in some people, while it may be temporary in others. The number of teeth affected also varies – from one tooth to several or all the teeth in an individual. A number of factors can cause teeth sensitivity. However, most cases of teeth sensitivity can be easily treated by changing one’s oral hygiene regimen.

In many cases, dentin exposure is the main reason for the development of sensitive teeth. The dentin is laden with tubules (microscopic channels) which connect to nerve fibres. Sometime tubules become eroded or exposed to the neighbouring environment. As a result, the nerve fibres become vulnerable to irritant stimuli. These frequent exposures ultimately result in teeth sensitivity. At least 57 percents of the general population are affected by teeth sensitivity. Other factors that may cause a teeth discomfort include the presence of cavities, a worn filling, gingival disease, and chipped or cracked tooth.

If you notice that your teeth are getting more sensitive, or you experience discomfort when eating hot or cold foods, do well to consult your dentist. Your dentist will carry out investigations to determine the cause of the sensitivity and will take the necessary treatment steps.


What Are the Symptoms of Teeth Sensitivity?

If you have sensitive teeth, you will experience discomfort or pain when you expose the teeth to irritant triggers or stimuli. The pain occurs mainly at the roots of the affected teeth. Triggers that commonly cause pain and discomfort include:

  • Extremely hot beverages or food
  • Icy drinks or food
  • Air with a low temperature
  • Sweet drinks and foods containing high acid levels
  • Mouth rinses with a high alcohol content
  • Flossing or brushing the teeth
  • Cold water, used during cleaning of the teeth

Symptoms are usually not static. They come and go at intervals for no specific reasons. Symptoms may be mild or intense depending on the individual and extent of the damage.


Causes of Teeth Sensitivity

There are so many causes that are linked with sensitive teeth, and we outline some of them below.

Excessive Brushing

Teeth sensitivity may arise when a person brushes with very high force. It also happens when one brushes using a toothbrush with hard bristles. With time, the layers of the teeth that offer protection to the sensitive parts will erode, exposing the microscopic tubules to triggers such as acidic foods, foods or drink with extreme temperatures, or sticky foods. Teeth sensitivity caused by excessive or rough brushing may be solved by merely using a soft-bristled toothbrush, or by brushing with lesser force.

Eating Foods with High Acid Contents

 If the nerves in the teeth are exposed, then pain may arise when you eat foods with high acid content. Such foods include lemon, tomato sauce, pickles and kiwi. However, if you avoid these foods, you will save yourself a lot of discomforts.

Grinding the Teeth

Teeth grinders are also at risk of teeth sensitivity. The fact that the enamel is the strongest substance in the body is no longer news. However, what we need to understand is that excessively grinding the enamel may cause permanent damage to its surface. This results in exposure of the dentin. The dentin is the middle or hollow portion of the tooth that leads to the nerves. If you suffer from teeth grinding, you may consult your dentist who will help you get a mouth guard. This device will help control the grinding. Full benefits are derived from custom-made guards.

Using Tooth-Whitening Toothpaste

Most manufacturers do add tooth whitening chemicals to their products. It happens that some people have a higher sensitivity to these chemicals. If you are sensitive and you notice that your toothpaste contains these whitening chemicals, then you may want to switch to another toothpaste.

Mouthwash Addiction!

Just like toothpaste that contains whitening chemicals, some mouthwash formulas comprise compounds that increase the sensitivity of the teeth. The strength of the pain can be severe in people with eroded dentin. If you belong to the class, why don’t you make use of neutral fluoride rinses or rather spend more time brushing and flossing.

Gum Disease

Gum disease or receding gums is common in the geriatric population (especially in those who have not been careful with their dental health). Diseased gums may cause tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will draw up a suitable treatment plan for the underlying condition. In extreme cases, he or she may come up with a plan to seal your teeth.

Presence of Excessive Plaque

Plaque is usually formed when one eats and leaves food debris in the mouth. This plaque is removed by brushing and flossing. It should be noted that accumulation of plaque on the teeth can cause the abrasion of the teeth enamel. This increases the sensitivity of the teeth due to the loss of the protection offered by the enamel. You can avoid this problem if you maintain proper dental hygiene and have your dentist clean your teeth at least once in six months.

Beneficiaries of a Dental Procedure

Teeth sensitivity is usually experienced after specific dental procedures. These include an extraction, root canal, or crown placement. If the symptoms persist, then arrange an appointment with your dentist. This may be a sign of an infection.

Cracked Tooth

 A cracked or chipped tooth causes pain that is greater than tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will have to examine your tooth and draw up a suitable treatment plan, such as an extraction or a cap.

Decay Around the Filling Edge

As one ages, fillings can fracture or weaken. In extreme cases, leakage may occur around the edges. These crevices make a comfortable abode for bacteria, resulting in the buildup of acid and breakdown of the enamel. If your tooth sensitivity is of this nature, please be sure to consult your dentist. It is quite easy to replace these fillings.

Teeth sensitivity can be treated. As a matter of fact, some toothpastes are specially made for teeth sensitivity and you may have to use one of these. Nevertheless, these formulas do not work for everybody.

If you have extreme teeth sensitivity which doesn’t seem to decrease despite all measures taken, then visit your dentist for an evaluation. A visit to the dentist will help determine the cause of your teeth sensitivity.

Diagnosis of Teeth Sensitivity

If this is your first time of experiencing a teeth sensitivity, please arrange an appointment with your physician. Your dentist will evaluate the health of your teeth while checking for underlying disorders such as cavities, recessed gums or loose fillings that may be causing the teeth sensitivity.

This check and evaluation may be done during the patient’s routine dental cleaning. Part of the process involves cleaning of the teeth and a visual examination. Also, dental instruments may be used to touch the teeth to check for sensitivity. This allows the dentist to rule out some causes like cavities.

Treatment for Teeth Sensitivity

Over-the-counter dental medications are often sufficient for mild cases of teeth sensitivity. However, in severe cases, your dentist may ask you to use toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. These toothpastes are devoid of any irritant chemicals. In addition, they may have desensitising substances that may stop the discomfort from reaching the nerve supplying the tooth.

You may use a mouth cleaner that is alcohol-free. This is best for sensitive teeth.

Use a toothbrush with soft bristles, and while brushing, do so with care. Brushes with soft-bristles usually have it written on the label.

Home Remedies for Teeth Sensitivity

Using a Desensitising Toothpaste

Desensitising toothpaste consists of ingredients that protect the endings of the nerve fibres from irritants. Potassium nitrate is the most active ingredient here. It acts as a barrier against the flow of pain signals through the nerve in the tooth.  After using for some time, the sensitivity will minimise. Dentists also promote the use of fluoride mouth rinses.

Salt Water Rinse

 Salt helps in reducing inflammation. It is a very good antiseptic.  Gargling twice with salt water can alleviate the symptoms of sensitive teeth. This is how to use a salt-water rinse:

  • Dissolve ½ to ¾ tablespoon of salt in warm water and stir to mix.
  • Place the solution in your mouth and swish for half a minute (30 seconds)
  • Spit the solution out of your mouth.

Hydrogen Peroxide

This compound has disinfectant and antiseptic properties which makes it suitable for sterilisation of cuts, wounds and burns. Hydrogen peroxide containing mouthwash can stop inflammation and enhance the healing of gums. This is how you use hydrogen peroxide as mouthwash:

  • Place 2 caps of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide in equal parts of warm water.
  • Place the solution in your mouth and swish for 30 seconds.
  • Spit the solution out of your mouth.
  • Ensure you remove any leftover hydrogen peroxide by rinsing your mouth with water.

Honey and Warm Water

Honey is used for management of wounds. It is an antibacterial agent. Honey facilitates healing, reduces pain, inflammation and swelling. To minimise the pain that is caused by the sensitive teeth, rinse your mouth with a spoonful of honey and warm water. This enhances oral healing.


Turmeric is a popular cooking ingredient. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.  Curcumin is an active ingredient of turmeric. Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory properties. Ayurvedic medical practitioners have used it for the treatment of digestive disorders. Concerning oral health, specifically the treatment of teeth sensitivity, you can massage the ground turmeric on your teeth. Alternatively, you may rub a topical paste made of ½ tablespoon mustard oil, ½ tablespoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon of turmeric. This should be done twice daily for pain relief.

Other home remedies include:

  • Green tea (used as a mouthwash twice daily)
  • Capsaicin used as a topical gel or mouth rinse.

The outlook for Tooth Sensitivity

If you find it difficult to eat due to the teeth sensitivity, please have an appointment with your dentist. There are many types of mouthwash and toothpaste specially made for sensitive teeth…what’s more? They are available over-the-counter.

If these are not effective, discuss with your dentist about the possibility of using prescription mouthwash and toothpaste. If you have cavities or experience symptoms of root damage, see your dentist immediately so that treatment can start as soon as possible. Symptoms that may signal root damage include:

  • Tooth pain occurring spontaneously without any noticeable cause
  • Sharp pain in the tooth
  • Localised tooth sensitivity (usually in one tooth)
  • Stains on the tooth surface
  • Pain while chewing or biting down.