What is Tooth Sensitivity?
Tooth sensitivity can occur when the protective layer of your tooth wears down and exposes the underlying dentin. When this happens, your tooth may become sensitive to:
- Hot or cold foods and drinks
- Highly acidic foods and drinks
Understanding the Tooth Structure
Tooth enamel, gum tissue, and cementum normally cover and protect teeth, roots, and nerves. Sensitive teeth typically develop when the tooth roots or nerves are less protected or exposed.
A tooth’s hard outer layer is called enamel. It covers dentin, a layer of tissue full of tiny tubes connecting to the tooth's nerve or heart.
Cementum is the layer under the gum line covering the tooth root's dentin. The gum tissues also help protect dentin and tooth roots.
Tooth roots or dentin become exposed when enamel, cementum, or gum tissue is damaged or eroded.
Causes of Sensitive Teeth
Exposed tooth roots or nerves due to damaged or eroded enamel, cementum, or gum tissue may cause tooth sensitivity.
Many factors can lead to sensitive teeth, including:
Several common habits can lead to tooth sensitivity. These include:
- Brushing too hard
- Consuming acidic foods or drinks
- Using teeth whitening products or certain mouthwashes that are acidic
- Allowing plaque to build up on teeth
- Using tobacco products
More serious causes of tooth sensitivity are:
Common treatments associated with minor sensitivity include:
Tooth sensitivity is common and often not a cause for concern. For example, tooth sensitivity is common in younger people since the nerves in their teeth are larger. However, some conditions that cause sensitivity require medical attention.
Symptoms of Sensitive Teeth
If you’re wondering if you have sensitive teeth, here are some signs you should look out for:
- Sensitivity to extreme temperatures
- Unpleasant reactions to hot foods and drinks
- Pain or discomfort from cold foods and drinks
- Pain during brushing or flossing
- Sensitivity to acidic and sweet foods and drinks
Talk to a dentist if you experience signs and symptoms associated with more serious underlying conditions, such as:
- Mild to intense pain when chewing, drinking, or eating
- Toothaches or swelling around teeth
- Gums that bleed easily are swollen or discolored and/or are sensitive
- Jaw pain or swelling (especially first thing in the morning)
- Pain when you bite
- Pits or holes in the teeth
- White, black, or brown stains on teeth
- A bad taste in the mouth or bad breath
- Teeth that look longer than normal
- Loose teeth or teeth that look damaged or diseased
- Pus in the space between teeth and the gums
- Face, shoulder, or neck pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Headaches and earaches
How to Fix Sensitive Teeth
Regular dental appointments can help prevent tooth sensitivity. However, people with pain or discomfort can also choose professional treatments and home remedies.
Home remedies for sensitive teeth include:
- Desensitizing toothpaste — contains compounds that can protect nerve endings from irritants
- Saltwater rinse — Can help alleviate pain from diseased gums because salt is an effective antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal agent
- Hydrogen peroxide rinse — Hydrogen peroxide is a mild antiseptic and disinfectant that can heal gums and prevent inflammation
- Honey and warm water — Honey is an antibacterial agent and can be used as a rinse to reduce pain from sensitive teeth
- Turmeric — Can be used as an anti-inflammatory treatment
- Green tea — Unsweetened green tea as a mouthwash can strengthen teeth and reduce inflammation
- Capsaicin — Has analgesic properties and can be used as a mouth rinse to reduce inflammation and pain
- Vanilla extract — Contains antiseptic and pain-relieving properties
In-Office Treatment Options
You may need to see a dentist if tooth sensitivity doesn’t go away independently. Dentists offer various in-office treatment options for sensitive teeth, including:
How is Tooth Sensitivity Diagnosed?
Your dentist can do a routine check-up to search for potential problems that could cause tooth sensitivity. These problems include:
- Diseased or recessed gums
Your dentist will also ask you questions about your pain, such as:
- When it started
- Its intensity and frequency
- What factors make it better or worse
Your dentist can check your teeth for sensitivity with dental tools. They can also use an X-ray of your teeth to check for possible complications that could cause tooth sensitivity.
How Can You Prevent Tooth Sensitivity?
Some causes of tooth sensitivity are unpreventable, but there are ways to prevent teeth from becoming overly sensitive.
Tips for preventing tooth sensitivity include:
- Practice good oral hygiene
- Use desensitizing toothpaste
- Don’t brush too hard, and use soft-bristled toothbrushes
- Protect your teeth with a night guard
- Avoid or limit acidic or sugary foods and drinks
- Use a straw when drinking acidic drinks
- Avoid using whitening products and/or acidic mouthwashes
- Rinse the mouth with water after eating or drinking acidic or sugary foods
- Get regular dental cleanings and fluoride treatments
What is the Outlook for Tooth Sensitivity?
Although sensitive teeth can indicate a tooth infection, most of these conditions are treatable. Talk to your dentist about solutions.
You can also manage tooth sensitivity with lifestyle changes and proper oral hygiene. Your dentist may recommend prescription toothpaste and mouthwash.
After making these changes, you may need further treatment if your teeth are still sensitive. Fortunately, available treatment options can help relieve pain and reduce tooth sensitivity.
- Tooth sensitivity develops when a tooth’s roots or nerves are less protected than they should be.
- Sensitive teeth tend to occur when layers of teeth, such as the enamel and cementum, are worn down or damaged. It may also occur when the gums recede.
- Several at-home remedies can reduce symptoms of tooth sensitivity and prevent it from worsening.
- Talk to a dentist about severe tooth sensitivity or sensitivity accompanied by other symptoms.