Tooth Sensitivity - Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Feeling uncomfortable or pain when you are having a hot or cold drink? You might suffer from tooth sensitivity.

Tooth sensitivity—or dentin hypersensitivity—, is a very common oral health issue affecting many people, and might be a symptom for other issues.

Here, we will discuss all you need to know about dentin hypersensitivity, starting from the common symptoms.

Symptoms of Sensitive Teeth

A huge difference of tooth sensitivity over toothache is the triggers. Sensitivity might be even more painful than a toothache, but will always involve certain triggers. Toothache, on the other hand, might occur without any triggers at all.

The common triggers are:

  • Hot foods and drinks
  • cold foods and drinks
  • Sweet foods and drinks
  • Acidic foods and drinks
  • Cold air and cold water
  • Alcohol drinks and mouthwash containing alcohol
  • Flossing
  • Brushing Teeth

The sensitivity and pain might range from very mild to very severe, and might be temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the case.

Causes for Sensitive Teeth

The main cause for sensitive teeth is enamel erosion.

Enamel is the outermost, hard surface of your teeth. It has two main functions: cosmetic—giving our teeth their natural shape and white color—, and protective—shielding the inner, sensitive parts of the tooth that are prone to infection—.

The enamel, however, can be worn down from various causes like:

  • Brushing your teeth aggressively
  • Using toothbrush that is too hard for your teeth
  • Impact damage (i.e. from a punch or from opening a bottle)
  • Grinding your teeth frequently, clenching your jaws
  • Acidic foods and beverages, high-sugar foods and beverages

High acidity in your mouth might be caused by other conditions not directly related to your oral health. GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and bulimia, for example, will cause stomach acid to frequently enter your mouth.

Other causes outside enamel erosion that can cause tooth sensitivity include:

Gum recession: gum recession might occur naturally due to old age (over 40). When the gum recedes and no longer cover your teeth’s roots, it can cause sensitivity.

Gum recession, however, can be a symptom of gum disease or gum infections.

Gum disease: plaque and tartar buildup can inflame your gums and create a pocket between your tooth and gum. This can ultimately develop into infections and abscess, and can kill the tooth completely.

Cracked tooth: the principle is similar to enamel erosion. However, when a tooth is cracked, the crack can develop all the way down to the tooth’s root, causing severe sensitivity. If the crack develops below your gum line, the tooth must be extracted.

Also, your teeth might experience temporary sensitivity after dental treatment or teeth whitening (at home or at your dentist’s). Typically temporary sensitivity will only last for a few days and no more than two weeks.

Tooth Sensitivity Diagnosis

Tooth Sensitivity Diagnosis

It’s better to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as you experienced any sensitivity. Sensitivity can be a symptom of major oral health issues (i.e. gum infection), and the sooner we diagnose the condition, the higher the chance to reverse the damage.

During a visit to your dentist, the dentist will look at the overall health of your teeth and gums, and will check for potential causes like decay/cavities, loose tooth fillings, gum recessions, and signs of inflammation and infection.

Professional dental cleaning might be performed—and in milder cases, is often enough to relieve sensitivity—. The dentist might use dental instruments to touch the teeth, and if necessary, an X-ray image will be taken.

Treatment for Tooth Sensitivity

Since tooth sensitivity is often a symptom for an underlying cause, the treatment will depend on the root cause.

However, if the tooth sensitivity is fairly mild, over-the-counter dental and oral health products can help relieve the condition:

  • Use toothpaste that is specially made for sensitive teeth. Make sure it also include fluoride. These toothpastes usually include desensitizing substances to block the sensation from traveling to the tooth’s nerve
  • Choose alcohol-free mouthwash, as alcohol is a common trigger for sensitivity
  • Use softer toothbrush (there should be a label indicating so.), and brush more gently with proper motion
  • If you frequently grind your teeth or clench your jaws, you can use a mouthguard during sleep
  • Dental sealant procedure from your dentist
  • Desensitizing paste (not applied with a toothbrush). You can get it from your dentist.

If there’s no serious underlying issue, you should see an improvement within a few days to a week after several applications for these remedies.

However, if the sensitivity is caused by another oral health issue from gum disease to abscess, then the dentist will perform the necessary procedure(s) to treat these issues, ranging from:

  • Dental filling to cover exposed dentin and roots
  • Dental crown for larger cavities or cracked tooth
  • Root canal, when the tooth is severely infected
  • Tooth extraction, followed by dental implant at North York Smile Center for Dental Implants
  • In the case of severe gum infections, might require a surgery

Last but not least, if tooth sensitivity is caused by underlying health conditions outside your oral health, you might need to go to a doctor or specialist to treat the condition. Bulimia, for example, must be treated under a psychiatrist.

Preventing Tooth Sensitivity

Preventing tooth sensitivity is mainly about taking care of your enamel, since almost all the major causes involve enamel erosion to some degree.

To prevent damage to your enamel, here are some habits you should keep:

  • Don’t brush too aggressively

Brushing too hard might take off more than just plaque and food debris, but also might wear out your enamel surface. Aggressive, side-to-side brushing that is too close to the gum line can make your enamel go away faster. Brush your teeth with a 45-degree angle and use softer toothbrush.

  • Healthy Diet

Avoid foods and drinks with high acidity and high sugar: soda, candies with high sugar, and so on. Eat fiber-rich vegetables and fruits and dairy products. Also, don’t rush to brush your teeth right after you eat something acidic or high in sugar. Wait at least 20 minutes and rinse your mouth with water first.

  • Avoid grinding and clenching your teeth

Clenching your jaws and teeth grinding are common symptoms of stress, so addressing your stress can often stop the issue. If necessary, wear a mouthguard during your sleep.

End Words

Tooth sensitivity is a very common problem affecting so many people, and often a symptom for underlying, more complex health issues.

Here at Smile Centre, our professional dentists can diagnose and treat various oral health issues that might cause tooth sensitivity. Give us a call immediately and schedule an appointment, so we can be your partner in achieving a better oral health and hygiene.