If you pass on hot or cold drinks because you know they’ll make your teeth hurt, it may be time to talk to your dentist about the possibility that you have sensitive teeth.

What Is Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is a common name for dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity. If hot, cold, sweet, salty or acidic foods and drinks, or breathing in chilly air, makes your teeth or a tooth sensitive or painful then you have sensitive teeth. In other words, sensitivity means your teeth react other way than normal. It is not a toothache it is discomfort and sometimes a sharp pain in the tooth or teeth.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity occurs when dentin becomes exposed. There are few reasons for that:

  • Brushing too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush. This can wear down enamel, causing dentin to become exposed, or encourage gum recession.
  • Plaque build-up.
  • Long-term use of mouthwash. Some mouthwashes contain acids and if dentin is exposed the acids can make existing tooth sensitivity worse and also further damage the dentin layer. There are neutral fluoride mouthwashes available that might be a better option.
  • Gum recession. This often happens or people who suffer from periodontal disease.
  • Gingivitis. Inflamed and sore gum tissue can result in exposure of the tooth’s root.
  • Cracked teeth. Bacteria from plaque can get into the tooth and cause inflammation or even more – it may lead to abscess and infection.
  • Teeth grinding or clenching. This can wear down enamel.
  • Acidic foods. These can be reason for enamel reduction.
  • Dental procedures. Teeth may be sensitive after professional cleaning, crown replacement and other tooth restoration procedures. Usually the pain will disappear in few weeks.
  • Another cause of temporary tooth sensitivity is whitening.
  • Sensitivity can be also a genetic factor. Thanks, mom and dad.

How Do You Treat Tooth Sensitivity?

The widely accepted solution for tooth sensitivity is using a toothpaste that can reduce or stop the sensitivity. But desensitizing toothpaste only acts as a painkiller not as a treatment. While this is a good short-term solution for temporary sensitivity (for example this caused by teeth whitening), and a good long-term solution for the cases in which sensitivity is genetic, it shouldn’t be the only way you deal with sensitivity.

For example, if you grind or clench your teeth at night, and it can be diagnosed by your dentist during a check-up, then your dentist may suggest you getting a custom mouthguard. Other minor changes like using a soft-bristled toothbrush that helps you brush gently with sensitive vibrations or paying attention to the foods you eat can help, too.

Most importantly, if you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, it is likely a signal of an issue with your teeth and you should see your dentist to schedule a clinical treatment. This will lead to healthier and less sensitive teeth down the line, and fully enjoyable ice creams in the park. Just remember to brush after.

There are several types of treatment available and there is no single treatment option that works for everyone. Proper diagnosis of the reason for the sensitivity is essential in treating sensitivity. If the reason for the sensitivity is addressed, the treatment chosen will be more successful in decreasing pain.