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What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

February 6, 2014

If you find yourself wincing in pain when brushing your teeth or drinking hot or cold drinks, you might have sensitive teeth. Teeth sensitivity happens when the softer part of your tooth that lies under the tooth enamel called "dentine" is exposed. Dentine has tiny tubes that contain fluid connecting to the nerve at the base of your tooth. Eating or drinking foods and drinks that are hot, cold or sweet can cause a change in fluid movement. This fluid movement causes the nerve endings to react in response, triggering a short, sharp pain.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

  • Tooth decay, cracks in your tooth, worn out or eroded tooth enamel or fillings, or exposed roots are typical causes of tooth sensitivity.  
  • You might not believe it but overbrushing and using a toothbrush with hard bristles can hurt your tooth enamel and recede your gums. Brushing your teeth right after every meal can do more harm than good as well.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis) and periodontal disease increase tooth sensitivity because inflammation is involved.
  • Bruxism or teeth grinding is a common cause of tooth sensitivity as well. Frequent grinding wears down teeth enamel, leading to cracks exposing dentin underneath.
  • Some mouthwashes contain an acid that makes sensitive teeth even more painful. Neutral fluoride rinses are typically the alternative that doctors will recommend.
  • Eating acidic foods wear down the enamel covering our teeth. Foods such as soda, sports drinks, and those loaded with sugar are high on acid.
  • Teeth whitening methods with peroxide bleaching can cause brief sensitivity for teeth. Hydrogen peroxide, in the form of carbamide peroxide, is a tooth whitening ingredient which is known to cause sensitivity. Speak to your dentist about sensitivity if you are considering having teeth whitening treatment.

What treatments are available?

The good news is tooth sensitivity is treatable and a curable symptom according to the Colgate Oral and Dental Health Resource Center.

  • Proper oral hygiene is essential to keep your mouth healthy, including daily brushing and flossing of the teeth to help prevent gum diseases.
  • Use a toothpaste specially formulated for sensitive teeth.
  • Use a soft toothbrush, preferably one designed especially for sensitive teeth.
  • If you grind your teeth at night, a brux guard can help protect your teeth.

When do you see a dentist?

If your sensitivity is extreme and persists no matter what you do, see your dentist for an evaluation. Possible treatments include applying a fluoride gel to areas of the teeth where you have the most sensitivity, to strengthen your tooth enamel and reduce the sensations you feel, and bone and tissue grafting.  Dr. Reese can determine the most likely cause of your tooth sensitivity and recommend the best solution for your particular situation, call 317-882-0228 for an appointment.