Sensitive Teeth Fact Sheet: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

What is tooth sensitivity?

  • It is a transitory sharp pain caused when the dentine (the inner part of your tooth which is usually protected by the harder outside surface) is exposed and in direct contact with stimulus from the oral cavity.

  • It is the most frequent type of dental pain and can be a pointer to the onset of dental disease.

  • The dentine consists of numerous microscopic structures known as “dentinal tubules” which connect the outer part of the tooth to nerve endings coming from the dentine-pulp complex.

  • When exposed, the tubules transmit external stimuli to the nerve endings, and this is felt as pain.

When can my teeth become sensitive?

  • Your teeth can become sensitive if you have any of the following: cavities, worn-out enamel, worn fillings, fractured tooth, receded gums and exposed root surfaces.

  • It can also become sensitive if you brush too vigorously.

brushing too hard can cause sensitive teeth

What can stimulate sensitive teeth?

  • Food or drinks that are cold, hot, acidic, sweet or sticky.

  • Also, pressure from physical touch, tooth brushing and breathing cold air through the mouth can stimulate the nerves inside the tooth.

How is it diagnosed?

  • This is very easy. Sensitivity is felt as a sharp pain which is always from a detectable stimulus.

How is it treated?

  • Your dentist can apply a high concentration de-sensitizer like fluoride gel or varnish on tooth surfaces but these are for in-office applications by the dentist only.

  • Home remedy using a desensitizing toothpaste can relieve sensitivity.

  • If the cause is from a fractured tooth or cavities or other dental conditions, they should be treated by your dentist.

How can it be prevented?

  • Practising good dietary and oral hygiene behaviours by:

  • Brushing twice daily with a fluoride containing toothpaste low in abrasives and flossing daily.

  • A diet low in acidic foods and drinks also helps prevent tooth sensitivity.

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