Tooth sensitivity — also known as dentin hypersensitivity — affects the tooth or exposed root surfaces. This occurs when the enamel that protects our teeth gets thinner, or when gum recession occurs, exposing the underlying surface, the dentin, thus, reducing the protection the enamel and gums provide to the tooth and root. Tooth sensitivity affects up to 57% of the population.
If hot, cold, sweet or very acidic foods and drinks, or breathing in cold air, makes your teeth or a tooth sensitive or painful then you may have sensitive teeth. Tooth sensitivity can come and go over time.
There are many causes of tooth sensitivity, including:
Worn tooth enamel from using a hard toothbrush or brushing too aggressively
Tooth erosion due to highly acidic foods and beverages
Tooth erosion due to bulimia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gum recession that leaves your root surface exposed
If you feel a short sharp pain following cold, hot or sweet stimuli, this is the first indicator for tooth sensitivity. Your dentist will need to perform a diagnosis which excludes other potential pain causing conditions.
Brushing properly twice daily for 2 minutes with a sensitivity toothpaste, and flossing once a day, can help reduce the chance of tooth sensitivity. A diet low in acidic foods and drinks also helps prevent tooth sensitivity.
In addition to recommending sensitivity toothpaste, your dentist may prescribe an at-home, brush-on fluoride gel or a fluoride rinse, or high fluoride level toothpaste specially formulated to make your teeth less sensitive and provide extra protection against decay. Other treatments — such as fluoride varnishes — can be painted onto the teeth to provide added protection.
There are several conditions which can cause pain, but which are not tooth sensitivity:
A cracked or chipped tooth
Grinding or clenching the teeth
Leakage around restorations
External tooth bleaching