What causes sensitive teeth, and how can I treat them?
Answer From Thomas J. Salinas, D.D.S.
When you have sensitive teeth, certain activities, such as brushing, eating and drinking, can cause sharp, temporary pain in your teeth. Sensitive teeth are typically the result of worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. Sometimes, however, tooth discomfort is caused by other factors, such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, a worn filling, or gum disease.
If you're bothered by sensitive teeth, visit your dentist. He or she can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain. Depending on the circumstances, your dentist might recommend:
- Desensitizing toothpaste. After several applications, desensitizing toothpaste can sometimes help block pain associated with sensitive teeth. There are a variety of products available over-the-counter. Ask your dentist which product might work best for you.
- Fluoride. Your dentist might apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain. He or she might also suggest the use of prescription fluoride at home, applied via a custom tray.
- Desensitizing or bonding. Occasionally, exposed root surfaces can be treated by applying bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces. A local anesthetic might be needed.
- Surgical gum graft. If your tooth root has lost gum tissue, a small amount of gum tissue can be taken from elsewhere in your mouth and attached to the affected site. This can protect exposed roots and reduce sensitivity.
- Root canal. If your sensitive teeth cause severe pain and other treatments aren't effective, your dentist might recommend a root canal — a procedure used to treat problems in the tooth's soft core (dental pulp). While this might seem like a significant treatment, it's considered the most successful technique for eliminating tooth sensitivity.
To prevent sensitive teeth from recurring, brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste and floss daily. Use gentle strokes, rather than vigorous or harsh scrubbing, and avoid using an abrasive toothpaste. If you grind your teeth, ask your dentist about a mouth guard. Tooth grinding can fracture teeth and cause sensitivity.
You might also consider taking care when eating or drinking acidic foods and drinks, such as carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and wine — all of which can remove small amounts of tooth enamel over time. When you drink acidic liquids, use a straw to limit contact with your teeth. After eating or drinking an acidic substance, drink water to balance the acid levels in your mouth.
Thomas J. Salinas, D.D.S.
March 07, 2018
- Sensitive teeth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
- Root canals. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/r/root-canals. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
- Brushing your teeth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/b/brushing-your-teeth. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
- Gerstner GE, et al. Sleep-related bruxism (tooth grinding). https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
- O'Toole S, et al. Journal of Dentistry. The relationship between dentine hypersensitivity, dietary acid intake and erosive tooth wear. In press. Accessed Nov. 16, 2017.
- Salinas TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 13, 2018.