Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Woman experiencing tooth sensitivity and pain after drinking ice water. posted by Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS on 2/15/2024 in General

You can only avoid consuming hot or cold foods and beverages for so long. If your teeth feel sensitive while consuming these things, it’s best not to ignore it—this can indicate a deeper issue that may get worse if left unchecked. Thankfully, tooth sensitivity is a common condition that can be treated by a dental professional.

What Is Tooth Sensitivity?

Your teeth are protected by a strong, hard outer layer of strong, hard outer layer of enamel and your gums. When your enamel breaks down your dentin—the teeth’s inner tissue, which is full of tiny, highly sensitive nerve endings—is exposed. The roots of your teeth are covered with cementum, which is a layer of calcified, mineralized tissue that covers the roots. When your gums recede, your cementum is unprotected, leaving your tooth’s sensitive roots exposed. When your dentin and cementum are exposed, you may feel an intense response to hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages. You may even feel sensitivity while brushing your teeth, using alcohol-based mouth rinses, flossing, or breathing in cold air. 

Depending on the extent of your dentin exposure, your pain may feel mildly uncomfortable or sharp, sudden, and severe, like a shooting pain that goes deep into the tooth. You may feel it in one specific tooth or multiple. 

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

From mild discomfort to severe pain, tooth sensitivity can negatively affect your quality of life. Various things can lead to tooth sensitivity: 

  • Brushing too hard. Brushing your teeth aggressively can damage your enamel or cause your gums to recede. 
  • Using the wrong toothpaste and/or whitening products. Some products that promote whiter teeth have abrasive ingredients that are linked to tooth sensitivity. Using these products isn’t always harmful, but it can wear on your enamel and can worsen or increase the risk of tooth sensitivity. 
  • Improper oral care. Whether it be a lack of a routine, inconsistency, or using improper products, like too much mouthwash or a hard toothbrush, improper oral care can weaken your enamel and cause receding gums. Consult with your dentist for advice on proper oral care. 
  • Your diet. What we eat can affect our teeth and gum health. Eating and drinking acidic foods and beverages such as carbonated sodas, coffee, orange juice, lemons, grapefruit, and pickles can erode your teeth’s enamel and cause tooth sensitivity. Consuming too many sugary foods like cookies, candy, and ice cream can also produce bacteria that break down your enamel.
  • Grinding or clenching your teeth. This habit can wear down your enamel and cause chips and cracks in your teeth. Some people consciously do this, while others may be unknowingly grinding or clenching their teeth in their sleep. 
  • Tooth damage. Deteriorating fillings and crowns, tooth decay, cavities, and broken teeth expose your teeth’s dentin.
  • Health conditions. Certain conditions that cause frequent vomiting or acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease), cause acid to come up the esophagus, wearing down your enamel.
  • Dental work. You may experience temporary tooth sensitivity after you get a crown, filling, or professional tooth whitening. This should go away after a few days. 

How to Stop Tooth Sensitivity 

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, don’t delay in scheduling an appointment with your dentist. During your visit, your dentist will conduct an exam to find the cause of your tooth sensitivity. They may apply a desensitizing agent or a protective coating to the exposed area of the tooth. Then, your dentist will determine a treatment plan. 

Thankfully, there are various things you can do to find relief from tooth sensitivity. Your dentist may recommend in-office treatments or at-home products to help manage or fix your tooth sensitivity. They may find that the solution is as simple as using a softer toothbrush, opting for an alcohol-free fluoride, or choosing a toothpaste specially made for sensitive teeth. Or, you may need more extensive dental work done, like a filling, crown, or root canal

Schedule an Appointment With a Kimball & Beecher Dentist

You shouldn’t have to endure the pain and suffering that comes with tooth sensitivity. If you’re searching for ways to find relief and live in Iowa, come to your local Kimball & Beecher dental office. Our team is here to help reduce your discomfort and find a solution that works for you, long term. 

Contact us today at any of our locations or schedule an appointment online.

About The Author

Dr. Beau Beecher, DDS

Dr. Beau Beecher is the founder and CEO, of Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry. Kimball and Beecher Family Dentistry is known for being a patient-centered practice that puts comfort and convenience first. Over 50,000 patients in Iowa cities travel miles to experience the high level of ... read more

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