There are quite a few different sensitive teeth causes (which are listed below). This page focusses on these causative factors. You can skip to treatment and relief from the problem by clicking here.
The problem of sensitive teeth is a very common one, affecting most of us at some stage. Tooth sensitivity implies a reaction to something hot/cold/sweet. This may be from food, drink or even from cold air. Sometimes brushing and flossing can stimulate symptoms.
The level of discomfort felt will vary between people and depends to an extent on what is causing the problem. What brings on the pain and it’s duration will also vary. Sensitive teeth symptoms may be experienced as a slight twinge (‘tingling’ teeth) or, at the other end of the spectrum, it may give severe pain for hours at a time.
There are many causes of dental hypersensitivity. But, in general, it is due to exposure of the dentine (the ‘softer’ part of a tooth) from loss of enamel (the harder covering). Dentine is more porous and communicates with the nerve on the inside. It is usually protected by enamel, thus preventing nerve stimulation. The enamel and dentine is thinnest at the gum line so this is where the problem may be felt most acutely.
Dental sensitivity is a condition that can affect anyone (who has teeth!). It is more common between the ages of twenty and forty, and women may be more likely to be affected.
Having sensitive teeth may be an indication of a dental problem that needs treatment. It should therefore be used as a big hint to visit the dentist!
The diagram shows some of the common factors that cause this pain, which we will then look at further below.
The Common Sensitive Teeth Causes
There are many sources of this problem. They include:
- Poor oral hygiene – This can lead to plaque and tartar build-up, with resultant dental problems.
- Gum recession – This can occur naturally over time, whereby the gums shrink back to expose the root surfaces.
- Gum disease – The gums may not attach properly to the roots (receding gums), exposing the root dentine which is not protected by enamel.
- Over-brushing – If one brushes too forcefully, with a side-to side technique or with too hard a brush, the enamel may be thinned. More abrasive toothpastes, such as those for whitening, may also lead to problems. May also lead to ‘sensitive’ gums, ie the gums may feel tender. The area around the gum-line is most often affected.
- Dental decay- This is a common cause of making teeth sensitive to cold and heat.
- Cracked tooth/ filling – If a tooth or filling breaks, the nerve may be unprotected and sudden sensitivity may result. Tooth pain on biting may indicate a crack.
- Dental erosion – this condition is caused by an acidic diet. The enamel is thinned making the teeth over-reactive to cold and heat.
- Grinding – similar to erosion, regular teeth grinding/bruxism can wear away the enamel, but by physical means. This may also cause ‘aching’ teeth, due to constant pressure on them.
- Teeth whitening - sensitivity is one of the common side effects of whitening. This usually clears up soon after the whitening has ended.
- Dental treatment – sensitivity is common after a range of treatments, including fillings, crown placement and professional cleaning. The post-operative pain is usually short-lived.
Some people may also suffer with this problem, with no obvious underlying cause.
The factors listed above initiate symptoms by one of these two ways:
Dentinal sensitivity, when the dentin (the inner layer of a tooth) is exposed. Usually, this layer is covered by enamel which is more solid than dentin and protects the tooth from heat/cold. Dentin contains microscopic canals called tubules. These tubules contain endings from the nerves that lie in the dental pulp. So when dentine is exposed, these nerve endings are exposed to the heat/cold and the tooth is ‘sensitive’. This is usually the cause when many teeth are problematic , ie the symptoms are not localized to one or a few spots.
Pulpal sensitivity, when the pulp, which includes the nerve, is affected. Here only a single tooth is likely to be affected.
Now you know there are many possible sensitive teeth causes. See the next page for help with treatment of the problem, where we will discuss:
- Dental treatment
- Home remedy including desensitizing toothpastes