Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment

If eating or drinking something hot or cold that leads to tooth pain, it might mean you have sensitive teeth. If so, you’re not alone. Recent studies estimate that between 11.5% and 33.5% of all people live with dentin hypersensitivity, or sensitive teeth.

While dentin hypersensitivity can affect people of any age, it’s most common in people ages 20 to 40. Teeth sensitivity also is more likely to affect women than men.

Read on to learn the potential triggers of tooth sensitivity, how a dentist could help, and ways to protect and rebuild your teeth moving forward. 

Home Dental Care for Sensitive Teeth - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Signs and Symptoms

Tooth sensitivity may not affect everyone the same, but there are several common signs and symptoms, including:

  • Intense tooth pain when exposed to hot or cold foods and/or beverages
  • Spontaneous tooth pain
  • Pain as you bite or chew
  • Pain or sensitivity limited to one specific tooth or within several adjacent teeth
  • Pain resulting from the use of alcohol-based mouth rinses
  • Pain when breathing through your mouth, especially cold air

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity 

Sensitive teeth may develop due to a number of causes. Potential sensitive teeth causes include:

  • Brushing your teeth so hard that the protective enamel is removed
  • Receding gums
  • Tooth decay and/or cavities 
  • Gum disease resulting from tartar or plaque build-up
  • Grinding your teeth
  • Cracked teeth or a broken filling within a tooth
  • Dental erosion of the enamel due to acidic food and drinks
  • Tooth bleaching
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies that lead to tooth decay or gum disease

You may be at risk of sensitive teeth if: 

  • You don’t maintain good oral hygiene, including brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day
  • You don’t see your dentist for regular check-ups
  • You consume a lot of acidic drinks
  • You grind your teeth
  • You engage in actions that wear away the enamel, including brushing too hard or using bleaching treatments

There are numerous causes of sensitive teeth.

Because there are so many causes of sensitive teeth, it's important to see your dentist to find the exact cause of your tooth sensitivity.

Professional Treatment 

If your sensitive teeth result in a lot of pain and discomfort, you should see your dentist for tooth sensitivity treatment. The first step to effective treatment is identifying the cause of dentin hypersensitivity. If your sensitive teeth are due to cavities, gum disease, or broken teeth or fillings, your dentist can treat these conditions to eliminate the tooth sensitivity. 

Your dentist also may recommend a variety of topical treatments to reduce or alleviate tooth sensitivity. These include fluoride rinses, gels, or varnishes that may need to be applied in a series of treatments for maximum results.

If your dentin hypersensitivity persists, your dentist may apply a sealant on or around the tooth to protect the tooth from sensitivity. 

Home Dental Care

There are a number of tooth sensitivity treatments you can try at home to reduce pain and build up protection for sensitive teeth. These include: 

  • Use a toothpaste designed specifically for tooth sensitivity 
  • Change your toothbrush to one with softer bristles to alleviate abrasiveness
  • Brush your teeth using small, circular movements instead of side to side to reduce abrasiveness
  • Wait at least one hour after eating to brush your teeth to avoid enamel removal
  • Limit acidic drink and food intake
  • For tooth grinding, wear a mouthguard as you sleep to protect your teeth
  • Make sure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 to prevent tooth decay and gum disease 
  • Talk with your dentist before trying any at-home teeth bleaching treatments 
  • Don’t skip dental check-ups; see your dentist at least twice a year

Summary 

Living with sensitive teeth can be painful and uncomfortable. However, maintaining good oral hygiene, including brushing your teeth twice a day with a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, can go a long way in reducing or preventing tooth sensitivity. Seeing your dentist for regular check-ups also can help prevent or eliminate dentin hypersensitivity by treating potential precursors such as cavities and gum diseases. 

A Word From Verywell 

Maintaining good oral hygiene is essential to maintaining your overall health, so don’t hesitate to talk to your dentist if you start to experience sensitive teeth on a regular basis. Treating tooth sensitivity may take some time, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can tooth sensitivity be fixed?

    Yes, you can reverse sensitive teeth by treating the cause, such as cavities or gum disease, or using a soft bristle toothbrush with a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. 

  • Why have my teeth suddenly gotten sensitive?

    There are numerous causes for sensitive teeth, ranging from poor oral hygiene to a high intake of acidic foods to tooth grinding. 

  • Do vitamin or mineral deficiencies cause sensitive teeth?

    Deficiencies of calcium or vitamins D and/or B12 can lead to tooth decay and/or gum disease resulting in sensitive teeth.

  • Can you naturally restore tooth enamel?

    You can't replace tooth enamel that has disappeared, but you can restore the health of your remaining tooth enamel by eating foods rich in vitamins and minerals, reducing your intake of acidic foods and beverages, staying hydrated, and maintaining good oral hygiene. 

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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