What to Do When Teeth Are Sensitive

Having increased tooth sensitivity can greatly impact one's quality of life. Even moderately hot or cold drinks have the potential to cause pain, as well as substances with high acidity, such as lemonade. Breathing in cold air through the mouth or applying mild pressure to the teeth can also hurt.

If you don't know what to do when teeth are sensitive, you may wish to first investigate potential underlying causes. According to the American Dental Association, sensitive teeth are not instigated by any one cause in particular, but rather by a wide variety of factors. These include:

  • Tooth decay
  • Chipped or fractured teeth
  • Worn enamel or fillings
  • Gum disease
  • Exposed tooth root
  • Teeth grinding
  • Infection

The physical mechanism behind sensitivity is that dentin - the layer under the enamel of the teeth - conveys heat or cold to the underlying nerves when exposed through one or more of the factors listed above. Transmission occurs through microscopic, hollow canals known as tubules, which channel sensation directly to the pulp, as opposed to being buffered by the protective coating that is present when a tooth or root is healthy.

How to Relieve Hypersensitivity in Teeth

The first person to ask about what to do when teeth are sensitive is your dental professional, who will inform you of the latest and most effective treatments to alleviate your pain. Some of the treatments most often recommended include:

  • Toothpaste for sensitive teeth: These often contain some form of potassium nitrate, which helps desensitize the nerves in the teeth. Effects are not long lasting and require several brushings to take effect.
  • Fluoride treatment: This can strengthen your enamel enough to provide a buffer between any irritating substances and the dentin in your teeth.
  • Dietary changes: Your dentist might recommend you cut back on acidic foods, or balance the pH in your mouth after eating them by drinking milk or rinsing thoroughly with water.
  • Sealant: Your dentist may apply a coating to cover up any exposed root surfaces and relieve pain. Serious cases may even require a crown or bridge.
  • Root canal: Often used as a last resort, this procedure can handle persistent pain when all other treatments fail by removing troublesome nerve tissue.

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.

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Tooth sensitivity 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.

Signs & Symptoms

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.