Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Remedies & Treatment

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Sensitive teeth, tooth sensitivity, tooth ache, painful drinking, painful eating, tooth discomfort.
Sensitive teeth, tooth sensitivity, tooth ache, painful drinking, painful eating, tooth discomfort.

What are the causes of sensitive teeth?

An unexpected pain or discomfort while eating, drinking or even breathing are common symptoms of sensitive teeth. The nature, severity and longevity of the sensitivity can be indicative of the underlying cause of the pain. The good news is that most tooth sensitivity is generally a minor issue and can be relatively straightforward to manage. 

Tooth sensitivity is an exaggerated response to stimuli such as:

  • Hot and cold drinks.
  • Sweet or acidic food and drinks.
  • Exposure to cold air
  • Brushing your teeth

Symptoms of sensitive teeth can range from a mild twinge to considerable discomfort. Pain can come and go, and may be worse on some occasions than others.

The most common sensitivity is a short, sharp sensation normally when you consume something cold. This response comes from the very inner part of your tooth where the nerve resides. For this type of sensitivity, often the nerve is perfectly healthy, it is the other layers of dentine and enamel that may be the issue. If you have significant pain to temperature (especially to hot) that lingers for more than a few seconds, it may indicate that the nerve itself has an issue and you should get this assessed with your dentist as soon as possible.

A range of factors can lead to common tooth sensitivity, but there are two main underlying reasons: enamel loss and gum recession.

Causes of enamel loss include:

  • Over-zealous brushing: Brushing too vigorously or too often.
  • Acid erosion: From acidic foods and drinks.
  • A cavity or a broken filling.
  • Cracks in the tooth.

Causes of gum recession include:

  • Using a hard bristle toothbrush – this can injure the gum tissue.
  • Gum disease: A common oral health disease that can cause receding gums.
  • Your genes: Regardless of how you care for your teeth, you may be genetically susceptible to gum recession.

Teeth whitening (bleaching) treatments may also cause temporary sensitivity, although this should disappear within a short time of stopping treatment.

What treatment can be offered?

Management of your sensitivity depends on the underlying cause and is usually straightforward for your dentist to diagnose.

Treatments are aimed at trying to seal or protect any exposed dentine or root surfaces to minimise the response from your nerve, this may be a filling or the use of a desensitsing agent.

Home remedies or simple changes can also help with reducing its effects, these include:

  • Using a sensitive toothpaste.
  • Gentle brushing with a soft toothbrush.
  • Avoiding acidic foods and drinks.

While tooth sensitivity is incredibly common, it is not something you should have to put up with. Many times treatment is easy and may only require a minor fix or change in habits to greatly improve your enjoyment while eating or drinking.

If you’re suffering from pain while eating and drinking or have any questions regarding sensitive teeth, please get in contact with the clinic on PH: 6733 9882.

Dr Jonathan Luke has worked as a Dental House Surgeon in Wellington, New Zealand and as a general dentist at several private practises in both New Zealand and Singapore. Dr Luke has volunteered abroad including completing his primary exams with the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons. With an interest in crown and bridgework as well as conservative and aesthetic dentistry, Dr Luke enjoys caring for all your dental needs.