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Your Guide to Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Remedies, and Prevention

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what helps sensitive teeth
It's not uncommon to have sensitivity to cold, heat, sugar, and acidic foods

Worried about your sensitive teeth? The first sign is usually a short, sharp pain through your teeth. In many people, it is experienced when a tooth is sensitive to hot and cold substances.

Teeth sensitivity (sometimes called dentin hypersensitivity) can be really frustrating when it stops you from enjoying your favorite food and drinks. Fortunately, there are plenty of treatments for tooth sensitivity for you to explore. So, if you're wondering what to do for a sensitive tooth, stay tuned because in this article we will cover:

  • Sensitive teeth causes
  • How to fix sensitive teeth
  • How you can prevent teeth sensitivity
  • Mouthwash and toothpaste for sensitive teeth
  • Teeth whitening for sensitive teeth
  • Some of the most commonly asked questions

It’s always a worrying feeling to get sore teeth, but you certainly aren't alone. In fact, one study found that tooth sensitivity was experienced by one in eight dental patients in the northwest United States. So, since this is such a prevalent problem, here we will hopefully give you all the information that you need so you know how to stop sensitive teeth from becoming a more serious oral health problem.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

So, what are the causes of sensitive teeth? Some are underlying issues that need to be addressed, but others can cause teeth sensitivity to just come and go, apparently at random. Dentin hypersensitivity is most common in people aged 20-40 years old and women are more likely to be affected than men. Could any of the following tooth sensitivity causes be the reason for your discomfort?

how to stop sensitive teeth pain immediately
What causes tooth sensitivity?
  • Worn down enamel: Enamel is the solid layer on the outside of your teeth that protects the dentin and tooth nerves underneath. If you start to wear out and lose tooth enamel, you may find your teeth sensitive to cold or heat, with a translucent appearance.
  • Exposed teeth roots: This means the part of your tooth with the least protective enamel is exposed, so there's a greater chance of sensitivity.
  • Cavities: These are another way your dentin and tooth nerves can become exposed, giving you soreness and sensitivity.
  • A cracked or chipped tooth: This can expose the middle of your tooth and sometimes even nerves.
  • A worn-out or ill-fitting filling: Old cavities are exposed to the same problems of teeth sensitivity as before you got the filling.
  • Gum disease Gum recession exposes the dentin which doesn't have any protective enamel, thereby causing teeth to become sensitive.
  • Gum erosion This is a normal process of gum recession; nearly 90% of people over 65 experience it. It too will increase the chances of having teeth sensitivity to cold and heat.

Any of these factors can make the tooth sensitive to the triggers mentioned above, such as heat, cold, sweets and fillings.

Ask a dentist: What part of my tooth experiences the sensitivity?

sensitive tooth causes
In a healthy tooth, enamel protects the nerves and stops sensitivity

Your teeth are the hardest component of your body, even more so than your bones. However, even though they’re hard, they can still get problems like dentin hypersensitivity when the inner parts of the tooth become irritated. Here’s the makeup of your teeth and how they get sensitive:

  • Enamel, which is the hard outer layer
  • Dentin, which is softer and surrounds your tooth root
  • Tooth pulp, which is inside the dentin.

The tooth pulp is the sensitive tooth center that is the home to delicate blood vessels in nerves. These nerves are what get sensitivity, signaling to you that there is an issue with your teeth that a dentist needs to see. Major reasons for teeth sensitivity can include tooth decay, too much acidity in a person's diet, and gum recession.

Dr. Ania Mohelicki, Dr. Ania Dental Clinic

So why are my teeth sensitive right now?

Now that you know some of the causes, let's have a look at some of the things that will trigger a sensitive tooth episode. Triggers are different than causes, as they are separate factors that will provoke tooth sensitivity. Have a look at some of the following things that could be prompting your tooth sensitivity.

Tooth sensitive to cold and hot

Have you ever gleefully taken a big bite out of an ice cream cone, expecting to bask in a euphoric sugar high? Did you then experienced a painful shock instead? Well, having temperature sensitive teeth is an all too common experience for many in the US.

teeth sensitive after cleaning
Is your tooth sensitive to cold or hot stimuli?

So you may ask, why are my teeth sensitive to cold food and drinks? Small chips in, or worn down enamel, as mentioned above, are most likely the culprit when you have a tooth sensitive to cold. This thin or cracked enamel lets cold sensations through to the nerves of your teeth.

It's possible for a tooth to be sensitive to cold but not hot. It's also possible to have a tooth sensitive to heat only. That said, if you have teeth sensitive to heat, it's most likely triggered by the same factors as sensitivity to cold.

Tooth sensitivity after a filling

Is your tooth sensitive to hot or cold after a filling procedure? Experiencing teeth sensitivity after a filling is quite common. Some people even experience tooth sensitivity months after having a filling put in.

Reasons you may find your teeth are sensitive after a filling include:

  • The filling procedure has irritated a nerve ending inside the tooth.
  • Bite alignment problems from a misaligned filling.
  • Inflammation of the tooth's pulp, known as pulpitis.

You should talk to your dentist if you have hot or cold tooth sensitivity after a filling, especially if it's been more than two weeks after the procedure, so you can be seen and treated if necessary.

Tooth sensitive to touch

If your tooth is sensitive when you touch it with a finger or apply other pressure to your teeth while brushing or chewing, this may also be caused by worn down enamel. Sensitivity may also be triggered by pressure if you have poor dental alignment, bruxism or tooth fractures.

Teeth sensitive to sugar

If you have teeth sensitivity to sugar, you may be caught up in a vicious cycle. Sugar can lead to enamel erosion and tooth decay. The resulting cracks and weak enamel allow the nerve in your tooth to come in to contact with exterior stimuli, causing sensitivity and pain.

Tooth sensitivity treatment

If you're reading this article, you're probably wondering how to treat sensitive teeth. Depending on the cause of your sensitive tooth, there are a range of treatment options to try. In certain cases, using home remedies or store-bought products can be a quick, easy, and effective method for desensitizing your teeth. On the other hand, you may need dental treatment to fix the underlying cause before your tooth sensitivity develops into a full-blown toothache.

The following is a breakdown of some of the treatments that might be suitable for you.

Home remedies for teeth sensitive to cold

Here are a few home remedies specifically for cold sensitivity:

  • Avoid triggering foods: This is one of the most effective ways to help your teeth when they are sensitive to cold. That means trying to stay away from ice cream or cold drinks.
  • Use a special toothpaste: You'll read more about this below, but there are plenty of kinds of toothpaste for sensitive teeth out there.
  • Use a soft toothbrush: Using a toothbrush with soft bristles will help keep irritation down, and won't contribute to the wear on your enamel. There are plenty of electric and manual options for tooth sensitivity.

Toothpaste for sensitive teeth

how to help sensitive teeth after whitening

Toothpastes can be really effective as a long-term treatment; some people report improvement in sensitive gums and teeth within a few days. Make sure that you choose a toothpaste with fluoride in it, as this is a key ingredient to strengthening tooth enamel.

The best toothpaste for sensitive teeth (or at least one of the most popular) in the US is Colgate Sensitive Toothpaste Complete Protection. It gets really good reviews and some users say that it improved their teeth sensitivity within a couple of days.

That said, there are all sorts of desensitizing toothpaste. Many of them stand out for different reasons, like whitening ability, fast relief, or because they are made without any animal products. Your dentist may even prescribe a sensitive teeth toothpaste with a higher fluoride concentration to relieve sore teeth.

You can learn more and see more toothpaste options by reading our article on the best toothpastes for sensitive teeth.

CloSYS is approved by the ADA

Mouthwash for sensitive teeth

Whether you want to treat sensitive front teeth or back teeth, you'll find a range of products in your local supermarket or pharmacy that claim to affect pain relief. These are usually in the form of toothpastes and mouthwashes which contain extra fluoride. Here's what to look for:

This can help with sensitive tooth symptoms in the long term. The best mouthwash for sensitive teeth will probably be PH-balanced and sulfate-free like CloSYS Ultra Sensitive mouthwash. This mouthwash has the ADA Seal of Acceptance and can be used multiple times a day.

Natural home remedies for sensitive teeth

If you have sudden tooth sensitivity, you might look around the kitchen for a home remedy. Well, there are a few options that you can try at home before spending money on any medicines.

how to get rid of sensitive teeth after whitening
Coconut oil can be a home remedy for sensitive teeth.
  • Oil pulling involves swishing oil, such as coconut oil, around your mouth. There are studies that say it can reduce gum disease (although the validity of the studies is questioned by the ADA) and so could help protect against dentin hypersensitivity.
  • Saltwater rinses are one of the easiest and most common home remedies for sensitive teeth. They help to relieve sensitivity because salt has antiseptic properties and helps to reduce inflammation. Try adding a teaspoon of salt to a cup of hot water, stir until it dissolves, allow it to cool, then rinse around your mouth to get some quick sensitive tooth pain relief. As an added bonus, saltwater has been noted to reduce plaque build-up.
  • Honey and warm water rinses work in a similar way to saltwater ones. Honey has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory qualities that can help with sensitive tooth pain.
  • Clove oil gel is a well-known teeth desensitizing home remedy and scientists have confirmed it too. It might not stop pain from tooth sensitivity immediately, but the natural pain-killing action should kick in after around 5-10 minutes.

When to visit a dentist

The pain from dentin hypersensitivity should only be fleeting, rather than long-lasting or constant. When you have teeth sensitive to sugar, acid, or extreme temperatures, the pain will only occur if your teeth come into contact with these things.

If the pain lasts for a long time after these triggers, or isn’t associated with anything in particular that you eat or drink, there's a chance that a more serious problem is causing your pain than just a sensitive tooth. In this case, it's best to have a dental checkup and mention your concerns.

Until your appointment, you can manage any pain by taking regular painkillers (if they are normally suitable for you). Check out our toothache guide for more information about what might be causing the pain, what treatments are available, and how you can manage your pain at home.

How to fix sensitive teeth for good

If you’re looking for how to completely cure your sensitive teeth, your dentist will probably have the answer. Depending on what's causing your teeth to be sensitive, they may recommend one of these treatments:

Treatment How it helps sensitivity Pros Cons
Fluoride application Fluoride can help prevent enamel loss and tooth decay. Your dentist can ‘paint’ fluoride over the sensitive areas to get quicker results than other fluoride treatments like toothpaste. ✔️Has a long-lasting effect ✔️Protects teeth from any further sensitivity as well as relieving existing pain ❌Several dentist visits are usually required ❌It can take a few weeks for the treatment to be really effective
Prescription toothpaste Your dentist might prescribe you Prevident 5000 for sensitive teeth. It contains 5000ppm of fluoride, much higher than normal sensitive teeth toothpaste, so can help strengthen enamel against sensitivity. ✔️You use it just like normal toothpaste ✔️Can have a long-lasting, positive effect on your dental health ❌More expensive than normal toothpaste ❌You need to brush more regularly – after every meal
Bonding Bonding resin for sensitive teeth is used by dentists to cover sensitive areas where enamel has been worn away. By covering the problem area there should be no more sensitivity. ✔️Long term fix – bonding can last many years ✔️Cost effective, at around $100-$600 per tooth ❌Bonded material can become a different color from your teeth over time ❌Your natural tooth will need to be roughened up to apply it
Filling When teeth sensitivity is caused by a cavity, your dentist can place a filling to plug it up and stop it getting worse. ✔️Can usually be done in one appointment ✔️Cost-effective; $50–$150 for amalgam fillings without insurance. ❌Some of your healthy tooth will be lost to prepare it for the filling
Surgical gum graft If the cause of your sensitive gums and teeth is receding gums, then your dentist may suggest surgery to remove gum tissue from somewhere else and graft it onto the receding area. ✔️Should be a long-term solution ✔️Will improve esthetics of receding gums too ❌Is a surgical procedure that requires an anesthetic ❌Gum disease needs managing to prevent the problem from recurring
Root canal surgery In extreme cases of sensitivity, root canal surgery may be performed to remove exposed nerves. See our full guide to root canal treatment for more details. ✔️It should be a cure for sensitive teeth ✔️Can prevent the need for more drastic treatment like extraction ❌Can take a long time and be quite uncomfortable ❌May also require a tooth crown

Teeth whitening for sensitive teeth

You don't have to completely give up on your quest for a brighter smile just because you have tooth sensitivity. Whitening products can be harsh on your enamel. To avoid more sensitivity after whitening, you may want to consider using products that will be gentler on your enamel and your sensitive tooth in general.

In fact, there's a whole sector built on teeth whitening and sensitive teeth. If you are wondering about the best options for whitening sensitive teeth, you can read this article to find out more. There you'll learn about different whitening methods and products like the best whitening toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

Preventing tooth sensitivity

sensitive teeth pain relief
Try using a straw when you drink cold beverages

We’ve discussed some sensitive teeth remedies, but did you know it’s also preventable? A major culprit for wearing away enamel and causing cavities is your diet. By using a straw for sugary or acidic drinks like soda and fruit juice, you can minimize damage to your teeth. You can even take a reusable straw with you for when you're on the go!

Another one of the causes of tooth sensitivity is improper brushing technique. You should use a soft or medium brush in a circular or up-and-down motion (not side-to-side), and avoid a harsh or abrasive toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

Alternatively, consider investing in an electric toothbrush for your teeth. It can help you brush correctly, meaning you're much less likely to wear away your enamel and develop cavities.  This article on can help you choose the best electric toothbrush for you needs, including sensitive teeth.

In this video, a team of dentists recap on tooth sensitivity prevention, causes and treatments:

Conclusion

sensitive teeth pain relief
You may have sudden tooth sensitivity during pregnancy

There are a plethora of reasons for why you may have teeth sensitivity. You may have sensitive teeth after a filling, maybe your teeth are sensitive after whitening, or like many people, maybe you have teeth that are sensitive to hot and cold stimuli.

Whatever the reason, the best remedy for a sensitive tooth is to follow correct brushing and general care routines. This includes brushing regularly and correctly, flossing, and using mouthwash for teeth sensitivity every day. Keep up with regular dental visits so they can spot cavities or gum problems early on and offer you the most appropriate treatment.

FAQs

Why are my teeth so sensitive?

Are your teeth sensitive to hot and cold sensations? Or maybe to pressure from chewing or brushing your teeth? Sensitive gums and teeth are caused by the wearing away of the hard, enamel coating of your teeth. If the sensitivity feels quite extreme you might have a cavity, infection or gum disease.

There may also be things that trigger your tooth sensitivity, like having tooth sensitivity to cold stimuli or a tooth sensitive to hot stimuli. Your dentist will be able to check your mouth and identify any underlying problems that need to be treated.

How do I get rid of tooth sensitivity?

Are you looking for a sensitive teeth remedy? You can decrease how sensitivity by using special toothpastes and mouthwashes designed to protect and strengthen your tooth enamel. For a total fix, you will need to visit a dentist for bonding, a gum graft, a filling, or possibly root canal treatment.

Why do I have sensitive teeth during pregnancy?

It is completely normal to have sensitive teeth during pregnancy. Due to changes in hormones, your teeth become more susceptible to plaque and this makes gum disease more likely, causing sensitivity.

Will my teeth be sensitive after whitening?

It is possible to develop teeth sensitivity after whitening them, either with a home kit or at the dentist. However, some whitening kits may be specially formulated to be gentle, so you might want to start there. You can also start by using the product for less than the recommended time, and build it up slowly to see how it feels.

Why do I have tooth sensitivity after a filling?

Sensitive teeth after a filling aren't uncommon and the feeling should subside by itself after a few days. The most likely reason for the sensitivity is that a nerve ending in the tooth has been disturbed. After it has had time to heal, it should feel normal again. If you continue to experience sensitivity for more than two weeks after getting a filling then contact your dentist.

Why is my tooth sensitive to cold water?

Many people experience at least fleeting sensitivity to cold at some point in their lives. Your teeth are most likely sensitive to hot and cold due to worn down, or small cracks in your enamel. If your case is severe, your dentist will recommend the right treatment for your sensitive teeth. Additionally, if your tooth is sensitive to heat, it is most likely due to the same issue.

Why is just one tooth sensitive to cold?

You may experience that just one tooth is sensitive to cold or hot stimuli. Having just one sensitive tooth may indicate a more serious problem than general tooth sensitivity. If one tooth is bothering you, your dentist will want to examine it for common sensitive tooth causes such as decay.

What causes sensitive teeth all of a sudden?

If you have sudden tooth sensitivity, it may be because your enamel has worn down or your roots are a bit exposed. Sudden tooth sensitivity is relatively common, and usually occurs when eating cold or acidic foods. If you are bothered by tooth sensitivity, ask your dentist about it and they'll help you find a solution. Some of the most common remedies for sudden tooth sensitivity are using a toothbrush with soft bristles and toothpaste made to combat tooth sensitivity.

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Contributors:
Amanda Napitu
Amanda Napitu
Amanda Napitu on FacebookAmanda Napitu on LinkedinAmanda Napitu on Website
Amanda specialises in writing informative content about dentistry. She has been a regular contributor to Dentaly.org since 2017.
Dr. Ania Mohelicki
Amanda Napitu on Website
Dr. Ania Mohelicki, practicing dentistry since 1994, maintains her practice in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Ania obtained her Dental Surgery degree from the University of Minnesota and continues her studies in all aspects of dentistry as a continuous student at the prestigious Las Vegas Institute. Her experience, expertise, and commitment to combine artistry and technology work to give her patients a smile that exudes confidence, beauty, and well-being.
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