Dentistry
Cosmetic
Product Reviews
Updated on January 9, 2023
7 min read

Sensitive Teeth: Risk Factors and Treatment Options

NewMouth is reader supported. We may earn a commission if you purchase something using one of our links. Advertising Disclosure.

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
  • Sweets
  • Highly acidic foods and drinks

Sensitive teeth can be caused by a variety of factors, including: 

  • Lifestyle habits
  • Harsh over-the-counter products
  • Common dental conditions 

Sensitivity can also develop after minor restorative dental procedures. Fortunately, this type of tooth sensitivity is usually short-lived. 

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

What Dental Treatments Can Cause Tooth Sensitivity?

Common treatments associated with minor sensitivity include:

What Other Factors Can Cause Sensitive Teeth?

Many factors can lead to sensitive teeth, such as certain habits, foods, and drinks. 

The common causes of tooth sensitivity include:

Using an Abrasive Toothpaste 

Whitening toothpaste is one of the leading causes of tooth sensitivity. This is because some contain harsh ingredients, including those that remove stains or whiten teeth.

If you experience sensitivity after using a toothpaste, try using a pea-sized amount or switch to a non-abrasive toothpaste meant for sensitive teeth, such as: 

Improper Brushing Techniques

Brushing with a hard bristle toothbrush can cause enamel abrasion over time. In short, this condition refers to the wearing away or loss of enamel. If sensitivity occurs, general dentists recommend brushing with an extra soft brush with a non-abrasive toothpaste until the teeth recover.

Using Teeth Whitening Treatments

Over-the-counter treatments like whitening strips contain a peroxide chemical to bleach your teeth. These chemicals penetrate the enamel and cause tooth sensitivity.

Tooth sensitivity can become a common occurrence if you don’t use whitening strips properly. This happens when you leave them on for more than 30 minutes or use them more than twice a day.

Professional whitening treatments can also cause tooth sensitivity because of the strength of the materials used. 

Chewing Hard Objects

Excessively chewing hard things such as candy, fingernails, and ice can cause sensitive teeth. This is because the impact can damage and break down the enamel over time.

Consuming Highly Acidic Foods and Drinks

Consuming sugary foods and drinks that are high in acidity can cause tooth sensitivity, including:

  • Soft drinks (soda) and other carbonated beverages that contain sugar
  • Citric fruit juices and other fruit-flavored juices
  • Sports drinks, energy drinks, and ciders
  • Starches, candy, and ice cream
  • Acidic fruits, such as lemons, oranges, and apples

What are the Risk Factors for Developing Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity can be a tell-tale sign of certain dental conditions and diseases. If they aren’t treated properly, these conditions can worsen over time and cause significant damage to your mouth.

Tooth sensitivity is a typical side effect of the following conditions:

Cavities

Cavities begin as chalky white spots on the surfaces of teeth. These white spots can turn dark brown or black over time. 

Tooth sensitivity is a common symptom of cavity formation due to how it weakens your tooth’s enamel. Sensitivity can develop if a cavity filling is worn down because the underlying dentin may be exposed.

class ii cavity

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease (PD), or periodontitis, is a serious oral disease. It can cause permanent damage to the gums, bones, and surrounding tissues. 

Periodontal disease is caused by a toxic build-up of dental plaque and tartar. Common symptoms associated with PD include: 

  • Inflammation around the teeth
  • Inflammation under the gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Loose or sensitive teeth
gum disease NewMouth

Receding Gums

Gum recession is a serious oral condition that exposes tooth roots to decay and infection due to periodontal disease, improper brushing techniques, bruxism, and bad tooth position. The first sign of receding gums is typically tooth sensitivity.

Cracked Tooth

Cracked teeth are defined as fractures that appear on the crowns of teeth. In some cases, they may also extend under the gums. Tooth sensitivity is often an indicator of a cracked tooth.

Further, cracks are typically associated with: 

  • Dental injuries
  • Bruxism or tooth grinding
  • Weakened dental restorations

Dental Erosion

Dental erosion is a chemical process that results in the loss of tooth enamel and underlying tissues. Extreme tooth sensitivity is often a leading side effect of erosion.

Dental erosion is commonly caused by:

  • Highly acidic or sugary foods and drinks
  • Vomiting
  • Medical conditions such as acid reflux and chronic gastritis

Extreme tooth sensitivity to hot or cold substances is a leading side effect of erosion.

Bruxism

Bruxism is a common habit associated with clenching and grinding teeth during sleep or throughout the day. Excessive grinding damages and wears away tooth enamel, dental crowns, and other dental restorations. 

Bruxism can also irritate the nerve within the tooth, making it hypersensitive. Common symptoms include: 

  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Chipped teeth
  • Flattened teeth
  • Tooth fractures 
  • Jaw pain

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:

  • Cavities
  • Diseased or recessed gums

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 to Prevent Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity can range from mild to extreme. Preventing sensitivity can be as simple as:

  • Brushing with a softer toothbrush
  • Using less toothpaste or one designed for sensitive teeth
  • Ensuring self-applied whitening treatments are used correctly
  • Brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day
  • Avoiding acidic foods and drinks

If sensitivity is caused by a dental condition or disease, such as cavities or periodontal disease, professional dental treatment is typically necessary.

Home Remedies for Sensitive Teeth

Regular dental appointments can help prevent tooth sensitivity. However, if you’re already feeling pain or discomfort, some home remedies can be used to lessen the effects of tooth sensitivity.

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 for Sensitive Teeth

If tooth sensitivity doesn’t go away on its own you may need to see a dentist. Dentists offer various in-office treatment options for sensitive teeth, including:

When Should You See a Dentist for Sensitive Teeth?

Talk to your dentist if your teeth start to hurt when you eat or drink something hot, cold, sweet, or acidic. Sensitive teeth can indicate more severe dental conditions, so it’s important to let your dentist know.

Some people naturally have more sensitive teeth than others, but if your teeth have become more sensitive suddenly or over time, this could be a sign of a dental problem.

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.

Tooth sensitivity can also be managed 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.

Summary

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel is worn down, and the underlying dentin is exposed. This causes sharp pain whenever you eat or drink something hot, cold, sweet, or acidic.

Tooth sensitivity is typically caused by various habitual factors like:

  • Abrasive toothpastes and mouthwashes
  • Improper brushing technique
  • Teeth whitening treatments
  • Chewing hard objects
  • Highly acidic foods and drinks

You should talk to your dentist if you have sensitive teeth because it can signify certain dental conditions or diseases. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent and treat sensitive teeth.

Last updated on January 9, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on January 9, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Liu et al. “Pathogenesis, Diagnosis and Management of Dentin Hypersensitivity: An Evidence-Based Overview for Dental Practitioners.” BioMed Central, BMC Oral Health, 2020.
  2. Markowitz, K, and D H Pashley. “Discovering New Treatments for Sensitive Teeth: The Long Path from Biology to Therapy.” Journal of Oral Rehabilitation, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2008.
  3. Raposo et al. “Prevalence of Hypersensitivity in Teeth Affected by Molar-Incisor Hypomineralization (MIH).” Caries Research, Karger Publishers, 2019.
  4. Rezende et al. “Tooth Sensitivity after Dental Bleaching with a Desensitizer-Containing and a Desensitizer-Free Bleaching Gel: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Allen Press, Operative Dentistry, 2019.
  5. Taha, S. “Clinician's Guide to the Diagnosis and Management of Tooth Sensitivity.” Springer-Verlag Berlin An, 2016.
  6. Maroon et al. “Natural anti-inflammatory agents for pain relief.” Surgical neurology International, 2010.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram