How to Prevent and Treat Tooth Sensitivity


If eating ice cream or sipping a hot coffee is sometimes painful, or if flossing, brushing or even breathing in cold air makes you occasionally wince you may have dental sensitivity. Over half of adults report experiencing some form of dental sensitivity that is triggered by hot, cold, sweet or sour foods and drinks. It is the most common dental complaint and can be very uncomfortable. It is important to know that it can come and go over time.
What causes dental sensitivity?
The most common cause of tooth sensitivity is shrinking gums. Another cause of sensitivity is excessive enamel wear.

Enamel is the protective outer coating of our teeth and is the strongest substance in the body, but it can be worn away.
In both these situations, the layer underneath the enamel becomes exposed to the environment. This inner exposed layer, called dentin, contains thousands of tiny channels that lead directly to the nerves inside every tooth. When this exposed layer is stimulated by coming in contact with cold, hot, or sweet foods, or even being touched by cutlery or the bristles of a toothbrush it can be painful.

Factors that lead to sensitive teeth:
How do we lose enamel? Why do our gums shrink?

  • Fractured or cracked teeth can expose dentin
  • Worn down enamel can come from grinding at night or clenching during the day
  • Erosion of the enamel can come from eating very acidic foods or drinks or from acid reflux, bulimia or morning sickness
  • Aggressive tooth brushing or use of a hard bristled tooth brush can wear enamel down over time and may cause gum recession
  • Shrinking gums can occur if you have gum disease
  • Age alone, as we age we tend to get gum shrinkage over time

How can we treat or prevent this from happening?

  1. Proper oral hygiene, including nightly flossing and proper brushing technique (no circles or up and down movements) with a soft bristled toothbrush, and the use of a desensitizing toothpaste (they contain substances that help block sensation from travelling from the tooth surface to the nerve. These toothpastes actually block and seal the dentin channels. They must be used every day in order to be effective, and some brands deliver instant relief from sensitivity.
  2. Cut back a bit on citrus fruits and soda pop. Wait 30 minutes before brushing after consuming acidic food or drinks to help prevent acid erosion of the enamel. Rinse with water or chew sugarless gum to help stimulate saliva to wash off the teeth. Drink room temperature water and warm coffee instead of hot until your pain symptoms are under control.
  3. Dental sensitivity is usually characterized as a short, sharp pain that is brought on by eating hot or cold foods or drinks or exposure to cold air. If you have pain that lingers or is spontaneous in nature (ie. not brought on by temperature or food related) or that wakes you up in the middle of the night you must see a dentist to rule out a more serious dental condition, like severe recession or severely worn teeth from grinding.

Image of dentist from Shutterstock.


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