Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Types and Treatments

These days just about everyone is in a hurry. Somewhere to go, someone to be, and not enough time to do it all. Far too often, we grab food on the go because we just don’t have the time to slow down. “Stop and smell the roses” is easier said than done until that sudden tooth pain stops you in your tracks. But, what causes that seemingly sudden sensitivity? And what can you do about it?

At Germantown Dental Group, Dr. John Whittemore, Dr. Todd Gruen, and their expert team are committed to giving you exceptional dental care and a comfortable experience every time you walk through our doors. We believe educated patients make the best participants in their dental journey, so let’s go over the basics of tooth sensitivity, how you can manage the pain yourself, and when you should schedule an appointment to let us help you get the relief that lasts. 

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Tooth sensitivity, or “dentin hypersensitivity,” is just pain or discomfort in the teeth due to specific stimuli, most often temperature extremes like hot or cold. That sudden sharp pain in your tooth after a bite of ice cream or a sip of hot coffee? That’s classic tooth sensitivity. While some people naturally have more sensitive teeth than others, most cases of tooth sensitivity can be traced back to a cavity in the tooth experiencing the pain. 

The pain of sensitive teeth is usually sharp, sudden, and shooting and is the most common toothache reported by dental patients. This sensitivity generally occurs when the tooth’s enamel wears down, exposing the dentin below, or the layer covering the root- the cementum, becomes exposed along the gum line due to receding gums. Regularly consuming acidic foods and beverages can also contribute to the breakdown of your tooth’s enamel leading to a prolonged experience with sensitive teeth.

Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Types and Treatments

Other possible causes of Sensitive Teeth

  • Overzealous Brushing- Brushing your teeth with too much force, with a hard-bristle toothbrush, or even with abrasive toothpaste may wear down tooth enamel and expose the vulnerable layers that trigger pain. 
  • Dental Work- Your teeth may be temporarily sensitive after dental procedures like fillings, crowns, or teeth whitening. In these cases, the pain you experience will typically be localized to the tooth that received dental work and possibly the teeth immediately surrounding that tooth.
  • Tooth Damage- Tooth decay, broken teeth, chipped teeth, and worn-down fillings or crowns can leave the tooth’s dentin exposed, causing sensitivity. 
  • Other Health Conditions- Sometimes, other conditions can lead to tooth sensitivity. Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) can cause acid to come up from the stomach and esophagus and may wear down teeth over time. Conditions that cause frequent vomiting – including gastroparesis and bulimia – can also cause acid to wear down the enamel.

Preventing Sensitive Teeth

The ideal way to handle sensitive teeth is to do your part to prevent tooth sensitivity. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks.
  • Be sure to clean all parts of your mouth, including between your teeth and your gum line. 
  • Brush and floss your teeth twice a day to ward off gum loss.
  • Use an enamel-protecting toothpaste.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush.

The Different Types of Tooth Sensitivity

You might be surprised to learn that there is no one-way tooth sensitivity may present in each person. There can be many causes, and each of those causes can show up in different ways. 

Hot, Cold, Sweet, and Sour

Experiencing the ache of sensitive teeth when consuming hot, cold, sweet, or sour things is the most common experience. It usually means that the enamel in that area is worn wherever the sensitivity occurs, and the dentin and nerve within the tooth are exposed. This sensitivity will be sudden but typically only lasts while the teeth are exposed to the stimulant and then subsides.

Post-Dental Treatment

Dental treatment can irritate tooth pulp tissue, and teeth whitening treatment penetrates your tooth’s enamel resulting in temporary sensitivity for a couple of hours after leaving your dental office. This pain will correspond to the tooth or area in your mouth that received treatment but should not affect other parts of your mouth.

Constant Strong Pain and Swelling

If your tooth pulp becomes infected or an abscess spreads into the surrounding periodontal tissue, you may experience constant strong pain and swelling in the teeth and gums in that area. This sensitivity will become more pronounced with touch and swell with infection.

Acute Pain when Chewing or Biting Down

Sometimes, your tooth sensitivity may present when biting down and chewing on food. This type of sharp stabbing pain may mean you have a chipped or fractured tooth moving against your tooth pulp and nerve. This ache is similar to a loose filling or tooth decay. 

Dull Ache in Upper Teeth and Sinus Pressure

The sinus area shares the same nerves as your upper teeth, making the source of your discomfort more challenging to identify. This also means that upper tooth pain or sensitivity may result from sinus congestion that is common with a cold or flu. Another common cause of a dull sensitivity in your upper or back teeth could be tooth grinding and clenching or bruxism

How To Treat Tooth Sensitivity

You’ll be pleased to know that sensitive teeth can be treated. The exact treatment will depend on what is causing your sensitivity but rest assured, relief is possible. Germantown Dental Group is proud to offer a full range of treatments. Here are some ways we can help with sensitivity.

  • Desensitizing toothpaste– This toothpaste contains compounds that help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. It usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.
  • Fluoride gel– This treatment strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the aching sensations after being applied during your dental visit. 
  • Tooth repair– A crown, inlay, or bonding may be used to correct a flaw or decay by covering the dentin and pulp for protection from stimulants and debris. 
  • Surgical gum graft– If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will insulate and protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
  •  Root Canal– This treatment cleans and removes the infected pulp and nerve causing the sensitivity.

Many patients will need to utilize more than one type of treatment to get lasting relief from sensitive teeth. Our friendly team can discuss these treatments as they apply to your specific situation to determine which will work best for you.

Sensitive Teeth: Causes, Types and Treatments

For tooth strength you can feel and see, trust Germantown Dental Group!

If you find yourself wasting precious time being held down by sensitive teeth, take a look at your oral hygiene routine to ensure you are doing all you can to prevent wear and tear on your teeth’s enamel and gums. For problems that persist, get in touch with our team of dental experts in Germantown, TN, for an exam to assess your needs and start your treatment to relief as soon as possible.