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My Teeth Are Sensitive. What Can I Do?

There are many possible reasons for teeth to be sensitive. Normally, we'd recommend to see your dentist to make sure there is not a tooth problem that is causing the sensitivity (and if a problem is found, follow the recommendations to have it fixed), but since most dental offices will only accept dental emergencies during the coronavirus shutdowns, you may want to try one of these other options first. If your sensitivity persists, then contact your dental office for further instructions.

Teeth may be sensitive after dental work is done. One possible reason for this is that we dry teeth during many dental procedures. The drying process can trap air in your tooth’s dentin tubules. This trapped air can then cause pressure changes that your tooth perceives as pain or sensitivity.  This type of sensitivity usually reverses itself on its own, but it is a slow process and can take up to a year to resolve. Using a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth may help manage this type of sensitivity.

Another possible reason is that there could be a high spot or spot where your occlusion ("bite") is hitting harder than the rest. Teeth should all contact each other at about the same time when you bite down. If one tooth is hitting sooner or harder than the rest, that tooth may react in a way that we perceive as sensitivity. Ideally, the dentist who did your dental work should see you to fix this.

So, if you did have dental work done shortly before dental offices shut down and are still experiencing sensitivity, especially sensitivity that doesn't seem to be getting better, it's worth a call to the office that did the work. That office should be familiar with what was done and better know if they need to see you now or if there is a way to manage the issue until dental offices resume routine care visits.

Hot, cold, sweet, and sour are all possible triggers for tooth sensitivity.

Dental decay or a cavity is one possible cause (particularly if only sweet things cause the sensitivity). When you eat something sweet, there is now more sugar in your mouth than there is in the cavity-area. Your body wants things to be equal, so it tries to equalize the amount of sugar. As it does so, we perceive the reaction as sensitivity. If the only time you get the sensitivity is when you eat something sweet, your dentist may have you limit the number of sweet things you eat and make sure to brush, floss, and use fluoride. You should let your dentist make the call on whether he/she wants to see you.

Gum recession is another possible reason for sensitivity.  Gum recession can result from periodontal disease or because of something like brushing too hard. Normally, your gums cover the root of your tooth. When your gum recedes, it allows part of the root of your tooth to show. Your tooth's root is covered with a thin layer of cementum rather than the enamel that’s on the crown of your tooth. Because cementum is thinner, some sensations can travel more quickly through it. Think of it like reaching into an oven that's turned on. If your hands are just in the air, you feel warmth, but it takes a while for that warmth to become uncomfortable. This is like when something touches the enamel of your tooth. But if your hand contacts the metal rack in the over, the heat becomes uncomfortable much more quickly. This is like when something touches the cementum of the root. 

Because it is a thin covering, your cementum can also be worn away by abrasive toothpastes or a medium-bristle or hard-bristle toothbrush. When the cementum covering is worn away it will expose the dentin tubules underneath, giving any sensitivity triggers direct access to the pathways to your tooth's nerve.

If you think recession or loss of tooth covering is contributing to your sensitivity, try using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth on a soft-bristle or extra-soft bristle toothbrush each time you brush. It is best to use this type of toothpaste each time that you brush and not to switch off between a sensitivity and a non-sensitivity toothpaste because the medications in the sensitivity toothpaste are cumulative. If you stop using it for a while, the effect will lessen. If the underlying problem is more advanced or acute, you might need a desensitizing treatment at a dental office or a filling placed over the root surface.

If your teeth are worn down from clenching or grinding or from acid erosion thinning the outer coverings of your teeth, it means that the sensations have a smaller distance to travel before creating the sensitivity. Toothpaste made for sensitive teeth may help with the sensations as well, but it is also important to determine what is causing your wear. For clenching or grinding, you may need to wear an appliance during times that you may clench or grind. For acid erosion you may need to be tested to see if you have acid reflux or change your diet to avoid acidic foods (sodas, energy drinks, citrus, tomatoes, etc.)

You can learn more about tooth sensitivity (and any of these causes) in these articles in the patient education section of my website:

Mouthguards for Adults

Mouthguards for Children

Tooth Wear

Tooth Decay Prevention

Tooth Sensitivity


Note: This advice is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare providers.


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who is accepting new patients at her office located at 1320 Cooper Foster Park Rd., Lorain, OH 44053. Call 440-960-1940

www.drjrobb.com  www.Facebook.com/DrJenniferRobb