What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

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Ok, you’ve been working all day in the hot sun. You finally get to grab that ice-coldlemonade or, even better a Foster’s, and ouch, you get a shockinglypainful tooth jolt! You’ve just experienced tooth sensitivity to cold. Tooth sensitivity is a perennial human complaint. Not only cold, but also hot, sweet, and just biting on a tooth can cause a painful sensitivity response.

As usual, there are always lots of reasons and causes behind dental problems and the same is true for sensitive teeth. In this article, we’ll help you sort through the whole lot so you can enjoy that lemonade or ‘other’ cold beverage.

The Nerve of SensitiveTeeth!

Every one of our teeth is hollow. Inside this hollow space is a collection of blood vessels and nervesthat connect to the main nerves of the jaw. It is called the pulp by dentists.

Each tooth has a hard enamel crown. Under this covering is a substance called dentin. It is softer, yellow, and has‘nerve’ cells that transmit information along tiny tubes to the pulp of the tooth. The roots of the tooth are also composed of dentin.

With this little dental anatomy lesson, we can now more easily visualize and understand the various causes oftooth sensitivity.

Types of Sensitivity

  • Cold
  • Hot (sensitivity to hot is usually a sign of a more serious tooth condition)
  • Sweet
  • Force
  • Acid


Except for sensitivity from forces, exposure of the dentin from whatever contributing dental condition or disease is the main cause of teeth becoming sensitive.

Dental decay:Cold sensitivity is the main hallmark of cavities. If decaygoes untreated and the cavity gets larger and larger, sensitivity to cold will become increasingly pronounced. Decayed teeth also become sensitive to sweets. Decay close to or into the pulp will start to elicit sensitivity to hot and, eventually,throbbing pain.

Fractured teeth: Symptoms mimic dental decay with increasing severity depending on the size of thechip or fracture.

Defective fillings: loose,broken,or leaking fillings cause sensitivities in much the same way as decayed teeth.

Cracked tooth: Sometimes a part of the tooth crown may fracture without completely breaking off. Biting on the tooth temporarily opens the crack, exposing the dentin and resulting in various types of fleeting sensitivities. In most instances the tooth will eventually fracture completely.

Periodontal (gum) disease:The root surface is exposed by infection or shrinkage of gum tissue around the teeth, resulting in sensitivity to cold, sweet, acid and, less so, hot.Read more about that here.

Receding gums: Exposure of dentin of the roots can be caused by many factors including improper toothbrushing. Sensitivity is generally to cold.

Orthodontic treatment: Some patients with braces experience sensitivities, usually to cold.

Tooth whitening: Excessive or or improper use of whitening products can cause sensitivity problems as well as irritated gums.

Impact sensitivity: Grinding of your teeth (bruxism),as well as any other activity, habit, or malocclusion (crowded teeth) that cause abnormal wear through the enamel on a few or all of the teeth may result in sensitivity.These include tobacco chewing, pipe smoking, chronic toothpick chewing, and so on.

Other less common causes of tooth sensitivity include bulimia, where stomach acid commonly erodes the enamel on the front teeth, and acid damage to the front teeth from chronic sucking and eating lemons or other citrus fruits.


Treatment is necessarily directed at correcting the specific dental problem associated with the affected teeth.

  • Filling or crowning decayed, fractured, cracked, or compromised teeth.
  • Periodic scale and clean or definitive periodontal surgery or treatment.
  • Receding gums exposing root surfaces may be treated either by filling with tooth-coloured material or, in some cases, gum surgery.
  • Sensitivity issues from braces may be addressed by assuring proper oral hygiene procedures in most cases.
  • When using teeth-whitening products, be sure to follow the instructions and do not over use. Some people will have sensitivity even with proper use.
  • Impact causes of sensitivity are treated with orthodontics, ‘night guards’, and elimination of habits causing excessive wear on the teeth.
  • Less common causes of tooth sensitivity are addressed by eliminating any medical disorders or chronic habits.

The most commonly recommended over-the-counter remedies for non-specific tooth sensitivity are toothpastes containingpotassium nitrate. Dentists also can apply desensitizing chemicals as a more generalized sensitive-teeth procedure.

Now that you have the answers to this ‘sensitive’ dental subject, be sure and visit us at https://www.dentalguideaustralia.com for even more helpful and interesting dental information!

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