Sensitive Teeth: Triggers, Causes & Treatments

Today’s supermarkets and stores are filled with oral care products from A to Z, and there’s no shortage of items targeted to people with sensitive teeth. That’s because it’s an incredibly common condition, with as many as 1 in 8 people suffering from tooth sensitivity at some point or another in their lives.

While there’s a broad spectrum of sensitivity out there, it tends to be most noticeable when the teeth are exposed to something hotter or colder than normal, something sweeter or more sour than normal, or if there are deep cavities or exposed root surfaces present. This can make eating and drinking normally uncomfortable and frustrating, but what can you do beyond toothpastes and mouthwashes?

At Busk Family Dentistry, we want to give every patient a smile that looks great and feels great, too. If you’re someone who suffers from sensitive teeth, keep reading below for more information on the underlying causes and triggers, plus a few helpful suggestions that can offer you some much-needed relief!

What causes sensitivity in the teeth?

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the layer of a tooth underneath the enamel (called the dentin) or the layer covering the root (called cementum) is exposed along the gum line due to receding gums.

In healthy teeth, the enamel protects the underlying layer of dentin, which is softer than enamel, and the tooth roots are protected by gums. If the enamel is worn down or if the gum line has receded, the dentin can be exposed. This, in turn, can trigger pain that is usually sudden, sharp, and shooting. Exposed areas are often impacted by hot and cold food or liquid, and sometimes food that is sweet or spicy, too.

There are many factors that can contribute to tooth sensitivity, including:

Overzealous brushing

It’s true what they say – you really can have too much of a good thing! Brushing too vigorously can wear down the gum tissue over time, causing your gum line to recede. This reveals the more porous root surfaces and areas of the teeth that are not normally exposed, and is actually the most common cause of tooth sensitivity. 

Tooth grinding

If you’re prone to grinding your teeth when you’re sleeping or stressed, it can wear away the enamel more quickly, exposing the dentin.  

Gum disease

One symptom of gingivitis and other forms of gum disease is inflammation in the gum tissues. This can cause the tissue to pull away from the tooth, leaving vulnerable areas exposed.

Thinning tooth enamel

Enamel is what helps keep the teeth strong. Improper brushing and flossing techniques, along with generally poor oral hygiene, can thin the enamel. This may weaken your teeth and leave them more susceptible to exposure and sensitivity.

Fillings

Some people may experience tooth sensitivity when biting down or chewing after having a cavity filled. Tooth decay irritates the tooth, and the filling procedure can lead to further sensitivity. This is usually temporary, but if it persists, the tooth may need further attention, including a bite adjustment, replacement filling, or root canal.

Whitening treatments

Teeth-whitening treatments can be done in a dentist’s office or at home using over-the-counter products. These treatments often contain harsh chemicals that are extremely efficient at removing stains. Unfortunately, they can also remove enamel!

If you’ve noticed any signs or symptoms of tooth sensitivity, we encourage you to contact us. We can schedule an appointment for you with one of our experienced dentists to help you assess the situation.

Busk dental assistant working on a patient

Caring for your sensitive teeth

When your teeth are feeling especially sensitive, it can be tempting to avoid brushing thoroughly and rinsing your mouth. Both can irritate existing sensitivity, but it’s important that you don’t neglect your daily dental hygiene routine! Whatever the root cause of your sensitivity may be, taking good care of your teeth and gums is the first line of defense.

Not keeping your teeth clean can lead to worn enamel or sensitivity around the gum line. When you’re vigilant about proper brushing and flossing, it helps to prevent the buildup of tartar and bacteria, reducing the risk of exposed nerves, which is a common source of sensitivity. 

There are actually a number of simple steps you can take to reestablish or maintain your dental hygiene routine, which in turn will help prevent and relieve tooth sensitivity. These include:

  • using a soft-bristled toothbrush to help prevent gum loss
  • brushing with a toothpaste designed specifically for sensitive teeth, which will continue removing plaque while providing some relief from sensitivity
  • thoroughly brushing at least twice a day for two minutes each time to prevent gum loss and decrease the risk of cavities and gum disease
  • flossing every night before bed to remove plaque and any leftover food debris
  • cleaning all parts of your mouth every time you brush, including between the teeth and along the gum line.
  • avoiding acidic foods and drinks

Busk Family Dentistry can help with sensitive teeth relief

While sensitive teeth can often be treated successfully at home with the suggestions above, you may wish to seek professional care if it persists or becomes more painful. Depending on what’s causing the sensitivity as well as the severity of it, we may suggest one of a variety of treatments, such as:

Desensitizing toothpaste

This toothpaste contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. It will normally require several applications before you see any noticeable reduction in sensitivity.

Fluoride gel

This is an in-office technique that can strengthen the tooth enamel and reduce the level of sensitivity.

A crown, inlay, or bonding

These treatments may be used to correct an existing flaw or tooth decay that has resulted in sensitivity.

Surgical gum graft

If gum tissue has been lost from the root for any reason, a graft can protect the root,  reducing sensitivity.

Root canal

If your tooth sensitivity is severe and isn’t responding to other treatment methods, a root canal may be necessary to eliminate the problem.

Dr. Ryan Busk with patients

At Busk Family Dentistry, we have an expert team committed to providing you with answers, relief, and high-quality dental care you can trust. If you’re dealing with sensitive teeth and need a solution, contact us today to schedule a consultation. We’ll get to the root of the problem and send you home with a smile that looks good and feels great!