Sensitive Teeth and How to Treat Them

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Dentist examining patients teeth

Do you dread taking a sip of hot coffee or iced tea because of the pain it causes your teeth? Does the sensation of flossing make your hair stand on end? If so, you may have sensitive teeth. Your teeth can become overly sensitive for a variety of reasons. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to reduce the pain—or even prevent the problem to begin with. Here are a few things to know about sensitive teeth.

What causes sensitive teeth?

Your teeth contain nerves that sense hot and cold and transmit pain signals to the brain. Some of these nerves are contained in a layer of the tooth called the dentin. This spongy tissue lies just below the enamel—the hard coating that gives your teeth their pearly appearance. So, if your enamel erodes or becomes fractured, the nerves in the dentin may become hypersensitive. Other causes for sensitive teeth include:

  • Cracks or breaks in a tooth’s structure

  • Exposed root of a tooth

  • Gum disease

  • Infection (such as a dental abscess)

  • Old, worn fillings

  • Tooth decay (cavities or dental caries)

What can you do to treat sensitive teeth?

The first thing you should do for tooth sensitivity is consult a dentist. He or she will examine your teeth to rule out serious causes of sensitive teeth, such as gum disease or a broken tooth. If your teeth are otherwise healthy, you can ask your dentist about home and professional treatments for sensitive teeth, including:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste - available over-the-counter for daily use

  • Fluoride treatments - administered by the dentist or available through a prescription gel you can apply at home

  • Crown or inlay - applied by your dentist to provide an additional layer of protection for your dentin

  • Bonding - performed by your dentist to cover exposed roots or other flaws in the enamel layer of your tooth

  • Gum graft - surgery to restore gum tissue in areas where it exposes sensitive nerves in your teeth

  • Root canal - surgery to eliminate your tooth’s ability to transmit pain signals

How can you prevent sensitive teeth?

There are many things you can do to help prevent sensitive teeth. Try:

  • Brushing twice a day to maintain good oral health

  • Using a soft-bristle brush to avoid wearing down your tooth enamel

  • Flossing regularly to avoid gum disease, which can lead to sensitive teeth

  • Using a nighttime dental guard if you grind your teeth during your sleep, since this can erode enamel and cause tooth fractures

  • Limiting acidic foods and beverages because substances like citrus juices, carbonated beverages, tomato sauces, yogurt, and other acidic products can erode tooth enamel over time

  • Drinking acidic beverages using a straw to minimize the liquid’s contact with your teeth

  • Brushing after every meal to minimize the effect of any food acids you consumed

  • Drinking milk to normalize the pH level of your mouth after eating or drinking something acidic

You should not necessarily expect your teeth to become hypersensitive with age. If you practice good oral hygiene and don’t over-scrub your tooth enamel, you might be able to avoid feeling that hair-raising ‘zing’ that occurs with hot or cold dental sensitivity. And if your teeth do become overly sensitive, be sure to see your dentist right away to identify the cause of your sensitive teeth and to learn about treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 5

  1. Sensitive Teeth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth

  2. What Causes Sensitive Teeth, And How Can I Treat Them? Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sensitive-teeth/faq-20057854

  3. Miglani S, Aggarwal V, Ahuja B. Dentin hypersensitivity: Recent trends in management. J Conserv Dent. 2010 Oct-Dec; 13(4): 218–224. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010026/

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