Most Common Causes of Sensitive Teeth (And What You Can Do About It)

We hear our patients complain about sensitive teeth every single day.  It is a problem common to many people, and it has various causes.

This blog will describe the most common causes of sensitive teeth and give you advice on how to address them.

What Makes Teeth Sensitive?

Teeth are hollow, and the internal chamber is filled with nerves and blood vessels.  These nerves sense pressure, temperature and pain.  The enamel coating a tooth insulates and protects these nerves from feeling these sensations too strongly.  

Sensitivity in a tooth is typically the result of an absence of enamel or a disruption in the layer of enamel covering a tooth.  The structure directly underneath enamel, called dentin, is porous; it allows various sensations like cold or sweets to reach the nerve when enamel is not there to stop them.

The following list of causes of sensitive teeth includes the different ways that these sensations get past our protective coating of enamel and reach the nerve through the pores in the dentin.

Most Common Causes of Sensitive Teeth

  1. Cavities

Cavities happen when bacteria penetrate through the hard outer layer of enamel.  This creates a weak spot or break in the enamel, and it allows the feeling of cold, hot or sweets to reach the nerve.  The bigger the cavity, the more likely it is to cause sensitivity.  Early cavities are not usually sensitive.  Make sure you keep up with consistent dental visits to catch cavities as early as possible!

  1. Cracked Teeth

We have seen a huge increase in cracked teeth over the last ten years.  Cracks usually result from nighttime clenching or grinding, a habit called bruxism.  Cracks in enamel also occur when teeth experience a drastic temperature change.  For instance, chewing on ice and then taking a big sip of hot soup can crack your enamel.  Do not ever chew ice!  

  1. Exposed Tooth Roots

In a healthy mouth, the roots of teeth are surrounded by bone and gums.  When the gums recede or pull away from the tooth, they expose the roots of teeth.  Roots do not have enamel covering them, so they do not have insulation and protection.  When gum recession exposes the roots of teeth, the teeth have a very high risk of being sensitive.  

  1. Thin Enamel

Over time, enamel may become thinner, and as it thins, it provides less protection and insulation.  The thinner enamel gets, the more you can feel temperatures like extreme hot and cold.  

There are two main causes of thin enamel: abrasion and acid erosion.  Abrasion is the slow polishing away of the enamel by gritty materials, like whitening toothpastes or eating tough, grainy foods.  Acid erosion can occur from external acids like lemon juice or internal acids like acid reflux or GERD.

  1. A Side Effect of Teeth Whitening

The tooth sensitivity caused by teeth whitening is only temporary.  It is not the result of any permanent damage to the nerves inside the tooth.  The chemicals that whiten the teeth can be irritating to the nerve and make teeth sensitive to cold.

What Can You Do About Sensitive Teeth

There are several important steps in treating sensitive teeth.  

  • First of all, always check with your dentist.  It is essential to rule out cavities and tooth cracks as the cause of your sensitivity.  If cavities or cracks are present, dental treatment may be necessary to treat the cause of the sensitivity.
  • Once your dentist rules out cavities or cracks, ask him or her about gum recession or thin enamel.  If you have exposed tooth roots from gum recession, then you treat the symptom of sensitivity.  There are prescription toothpastes and gels that can help lessen sensitivity.  There are also over-the-counter products, like Sensodyne toothpaste and Crest Sensi-Stop Strips.  
  • If you are currently whitening your teeth and experiencing sensitivity, you should alter your whitening routine.  Make sure to use a low concentration whitening gel and only whiten every other day.  Once your whitening is complete, the sensitivity will subside on its own within a few days.
  • Avoid whitening toothpastes, which are abrasive and can remove enamel.
  • Stay away from acids like lemon and lime juice.
  • See your medical doctor to treat any acid reflux or GERD issues.
  • If you clench or grind your teeth at night, wear a custom nightguard made by your dentist.

Do You Have Sensitive Teeth?

Call your nearest Premier Dental of Ohio location to schedule a consultation with one of our dentists. They will evaluate your teeth to determine the cause of sensitivity, and then they will give you recommendations to treat it.