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Sensitive Gums vs. Sensitive Teeth

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When it comes to your mouth, two of the main cogs in the engine are the gums and teeth. It's easy to take the necessary functions they perform for granted – that is, until your mouth is in pain. Whether you have sensitive gums or sensitive teeth, either is a recipe for oral discomfort. Read on to find out the differences between the two, what causes sensitive teeth and some ways to alleviate and prevent the pain.

What is Gum Sensitivity?

Gum sensitivity is exactly what it sounds like – some form of irritation originating from the gums. If you notice your gums hurt when brushing your teeth, look for some very specific symptoms to be sure: sensitive gums can result from gingivitis, the initial stage of gum disease. Some of the signs of gingivitis are swollen and tender gums, those that easily bleed and elicit bad breath. As gingivitis progresses into advanced gum disease, receding gums is another condition to watch for.

Sensitive gums as a result of gingivitis or periodontal disease are typically caused by poor oral hygiene. Plaque is the main culprit of the sensitivity as it builds up along the gum line and, if left untreated, can progress to advanced gum disease. Additional causes include diabetes, tobacco use, crooked teeth and even pregnancy.

What is Tooth Sensitivity?

If you have sensitive teeth, you may be familiar with a few common symptoms. You may find yourself wincing when brushing your teeth or flossing, tooth pain when eating or drinking something cold or even the same feeling when consuming something hot, acidic or sweet.

Tooth sensitivity has many possible causes including cavities and tooth fractures, receding gums, worn tooth enamel, exposed tooth dentine, loose fillings and, lastly, gum disease. Teeth grinding or brushing your teeth with too much force are two additional actions that can create sensitivity in your teeth. The overuse of mouthwash or even a cracked tooth may also expose the nerves that cause irritation.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth and Gums?

There are several reasons you may experience sensitive gums and teeth. The dentine in your teeth can become exposed or your gum tissue can become irritated and cause you to experience a short, sharp pain. We’ve included some of the most common reasons for sensitive teeth and gums below:

  • A broken or cracked tooth.

  • A tooth that has decay and needs a filling.

  • Areas of teeth without enamel due to acidic food and drink.

  • Brushing your teeth too hard or for too long can be abrasive and leave areas of your teeth without enamel.

  • Receding gums can slowly expose the dentine root of your teeth – this can happen naturally or because of gum disease.

  • Teeth grinding at night. 

  • Using poor-quality cosmetic whitening treatments can leave areas of your teeth without enamel and cause sensitivity.

  • Using alcohol-based mouthwash. 


Treatment and Prevention

Though sensitive gums and teeth can lead to serious oral health issues, each is very treatable and preventable. The best way to avoid sensitive gums, sensitive teeth and any issues stemming from either is by practising and maintaining a good oral health routine. This starts with using products that help to prevent plaque and gingivitis – two culprits that can lead to sensitive gums and teeth. 

If you’re prone to getting sensitive gums and teeth regularly, one of the best things you can do is use a toothpaste that has been specially developed to help the problem. Sensitive toothpastes contain active ingredients such as potassium nitrate and stannous fluoride that work to block your pain sensors and protect your teeth. If you’re looking for the best toothpaste for sensitive teeth, we’re here to help!  Colgate Sensitive Instant Relief Toothpaste has been created with Pro-Argin technology that plugs the areas of exposed dentine that lead to sensitivity. By doing this, our sensitive toothpaste starts to block the pain of sensitivity instantly* and brings you the relief you need.

*For instant relief, apply directly to the sensitive tooth with a fingertip and massage gently for 1 minute up to twice a day. 

Other things you can do to help prevent sensitive gums and teeth include:

  • Having regular checkups and hygiene appointments with your dentist.
  • Follow your dentist’s advice for looking after your teeth at home.
  • Use small, circular motions when brushing your teeth. Don’t brush from side to side.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and replace it every 3 months.
  • Use a fluoride toothpaste or products specially formulated for sensitive teeth or strengthening gums, depending on where your sensitivity lies.
  • Floss every day - cleaning between your teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes can reach areas your toothbrush can’t.
  • Ask your dentist about a fluoride gel, rinse or varnish – this will gradually build a protective layer over your teeth.
  • Eat a nutritious diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole foods.
  • Avoid sugary, fizzy or acidic food and drink as much as possible.

When Should You See a Dentist?

Make an appointment with your dentist if you have ongoing problems with sensitive gums and teeth – especially if you’ve tried products at home that haven’t helped. They may also be able to suggest treatments to help ongoing sensitivity like bonding, gum grafting or a root canal. You should always visit your dentist if you suspect you have something wrong like a cavity, cracked or chipped tooth or a sore on your gums. Getting early treatment will stop any problems from getting worse, plus, the sooner you get treated, the sooner you can go back to smiling!


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.