Key Takeaways

  • Tooth sensitivity often occurs when gums start to recede and tooth roots are exposed.
  • Tooth sensitivity can cause pain when you eat cold food and drinks and breath in cold air.
  • Tell your dentist if your teeth are sensitive – it can be a sign of something more serious, like gum disease.

Tooth sensitivity happens when the protective enamel on teeth is damaged. Enamel protects the more delicate part of the tooth, called dentin, that lives below the gumline. Dentin has tiny tubes that connect to the tooth’s nerve centre. So when it’s exposed to hot, cold or acidic food or beverages, the result is a shocking pain.

Your dentist needs to know if your teeth are sensitive because the causes can include:

  • Receding gums
  • Gum disease
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Teeth clenching
  • Worn fillings

Treating sensitivity

Depending on how bad the sensitivity is, your dentist can suggest several ways to treat the problem.

  • Brushing regularly with a special desensitizing toothpaste. This can help seal the tubes of the dentin and act as a protective cover.
  • Using a fluoride rinse or gel may help to harden the enamel, protecting the teeth. Depending on their strength, these rinses or gels are available with or without a prescription. Talk to your dentist about whether this option is right for you — and how often you should use it.
  • There’s also a fluoride varnish your dentist can apply to your teeth. It’s a thick paste with a high concentration of fluoride that’s applied to sensitive teeth every two or three months.
  • Bonding is a more permanent fix where a layer of tooth-coloured composite resin is applied to exposed, sensitive roots. This can provide long-lasting protection from tooth sensitivity.
  • If tooth sensitivity is a direct result of teeth grinding, your dentist can fit you with a customized mouth guard to wear while you’re sleeping and protect your teeth from more damage.

How to help prevent tooth sensitivity

  • Keep your teeth clean. Plaque forms bacteria that irritate your gums and may make them recede.
  • Use desensitizing toothpaste and fluoridated dental products.
  • Use a soft toothbrush that won’t scratch tooth enamel or wear away gum tissue and brush gently using a circular motion.
  • Use warm water when brushing your teeth to soften your toothbrush’s bristles.
  • Avoid tobacco in any form. In addition to its cancer-causing effects, smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco may cause gums to recede.
  • Reduce your intake of acidic foods and sugary snacks and drinks.

What to look out for

You should always tell your dentist if your teeth are sensitive to hot, cold or sweet, but you should call your dentist at once if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Your teeth are also sensitive to pressure.
  • Your tooth sensitivity doesn’t decrease after using desensitizing toothpaste for a few weeks.
  • The pain from tooth sensitivity lasts longer than one hour.
  • The gums around your sensitive teeth appear to be changing colour.

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