A Sensitive Matter

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Is the taste of ice cream or a sip of a hot drink sometimes a painful experience for you? Does brushing or flossing make you wince occasionally? Does cold air make your teeth ache? If so, you may have sensitive teeth.

What is dentin hypersensitivity?

Dentin hypersensitivity, more commonly referred to as sensitive teeth, can be defined as short, sharp pains that come from exposed dentin (the layer of tissue found beneath the hard enamel that contains the inner pulp). Possible causes include:

  • Tooth decay (cavities)
  • Fractured teethsensitive_teeth
  • Worn fillings
  • Gum disease
  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Exposed tooth root

What causes the sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is caused by the movement of fluid within tiny tubes (pores) located in the dentin, which results in nerve irritation. When the hard enamel of a tooth is worn down or gums have receded, the surfaces of these tiny tubes can become exposed, resulting in pain while eating or drinking certain foods, such as ice cream or hot coffee.

How common is this condition?

One in five people in the United States experience dentin hypersensitivity at some point in his or her life. Sensitive teeth can be treated. The type of treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity. Your dentist may suggest one of a variety of treatments:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste. This contains compounds that help block transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve, and usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced. There are over the counter tooth pastes and professional strength tooth paste that is available from your dentist.
  • Fluoride gel. An in-office technique which strengthens tooth enamel, re-mineralizes, kills bacteria and reduces the transmission of sensations.
  • In-Office Desensitizing agent. An in-office technique which seal the tubes where they have been exposed on the surface.
  • Take home desensitizing agent. A gel you can purchase at your dentist office to apply to help with sensitivity.
  • A crown, inlay or bonding. These may be used to correct a flaw or decay that results in sensitivity.
  • Surgical gum graft. If gum tissue has been lost from the root, this will protect the root and reduce sensitivity.
  • Root canal. If sensitivity is severe and persistent and cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend this treatment to eliminate the problem.

How can I avoid dentin hypersensitivity?

Excessive consumption of acidic beverages, such as orange juice or cola, can wear down hard enamel and put you at risk for dentin hypersensitivity. Limiting your consumption of acidic foods and beverages, don’t swish your mouth with cola. Conditions such as bulimia nervosa and acid reflux also can have similar erosive effects on tooth enamel Use a soft toothbrush and brush in a circular motion. Notify your dentist if you experience tooth sensitivity. He or she can monitor the condition and can help remedy the sensitivity.

sensitive teeth


I have dentin hypersensitivity. What can I do to prevent pain?

Use desensitizing toothpaste, over the counter or professional strength from your dentist office. In-office treatments, such as topical agents or sealants, can be applied by a dentist to help reduce sensitivity. Of course, limiting your intake of acidic foods and beverages is always recommended.

Do you have more questions about tooth sensitivity? Please give us a call! We can help you!