What causes sensitive teeth, and how can I treat them?

Answer From Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.

When you have sensitive teeth, certain activities can cause a short, sharp pain in your teeth. Those activities often include brushing your teeth, as well eating and drinking. Sensitive teeth can happen due to tooth enamel that's worn down or tooth roots that become exposed. But sometimes other factors cause sensitivity. They might include a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth, a worn filling, or gum disease. Using teeth whiteners also may lead to tooth sensitivity.

If you're bothered by sensitive teeth, visit your dentist. Your dentist can identify or rule out possible causes of tooth pain.

Depending on your situation, your dentist might recommend:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste and mouthwash. These products may help block the pain of sensitive teeth. Most are available without a prescription.
  • Fluoride. Your dentist may apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth. This can help strengthen tooth enamel and ease pain. Your dentist also might suggest that you use prescription fluoride at home.
  • Dental adhesives or sealants. Sometimes exposed root surfaces can be treated by putting an adhesive or a sealant on them to form a protective layer over the root.
  • Gum graft. If a tooth root has lost gum tissue, the root may be exposed. A small amount of tissue can be taken from somewhere else in the mouth and attached to the problem area. This is called a graft. Or tissue for the graft can be taken from deceased donor tissue or another source. A gum graft protects the exposed root and may lessen sensitivity.

To help keep your teeth healthy after treatment, follow these steps:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Use gentle strokes when you brush. Don't scrub or brush vigorously.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste and avoid abrasive toothpastes.
  • Floss at least once a day.
  • See your dentist regularly.

If you grind your teeth, ask your dentist about using a mouth guard. Grinding can break teeth and lead to sensitivity.

Food and drinks that have a lot of acid can remove small amounts of tooth enamel over time. Examples include carbonated drinks, citrus fruits and wine. When you drink acidic liquids, use a straw to limit contact with your teeth. After eating or drinking something acidic, drink water to balance the acid levels in your mouth.


Cindy Zhou, D.M.D., M.S.

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June 19, 2024 See more Expert Answers