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Sensitive teeth

author icon By Dr. George Ghidrai

Tooth sensitivity occurs when the enamel that protects teeth gets thinner, or when gum recession occurs, thus reducing the protection the enamel and gums provide to the tooth and root.

sensitive teeth

If this is the case, your tooth or teeth may feel sensitive or painful whenever you eat or drink hot, cold, sweet or very acidic foods or even when breathing in cold air.

Tooth sensitivity can come and go over time.

Origin of tooth sensitivity

In a healthy situation, the inside of a tooth is primarily made up of an organic material called dentin that protects the pulp (or the tooth's nerve) located in the middle. A hard outer layer of enamel protects the dentin within the crown portion of the tooth, while the dentin extending down to the root of the tooth is protected by a layer of cementum.

inside of a tooth
gigival recession

While enamel is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance of the body and (when intact) offers very good protection, the principal role of cementum is to serve as a medium by which the periodontal ligaments can attach to the tooth for stability.

Dentin has microscopic channels, called dentinal tubules, filled with tiny nerve endings, which radiate outward through the dentin from the pulp cavity to the exterior cementum or enamel border.

dentinal tubules

dentinal tubules

!!!Tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, occurs whenever dentin loses its protective covering of enamel or cementum, exposing the nerve endings to hot, cold, acidic or sweet foods.

What causes sensitive teeth ?

Tooth sensitivity can be caused by many types of dental issues:

Dental issues that can cause loss of enamel

Dental issues that can leave part of the tooth's root exposed

periodontal pocket

periodontal pocket

Other causes

How can I prevent sensitive teeth ?

There are many things you can do to prevent teeth sensitivity or sensitive teeth from recurring. Most of these measures do not apply just for preventing sensitive teeth, but for the health of your entire dental system.

How to treat sensitive teeth

If you are experiencing teeth sensitivity, start by visiting your dentist. Tooth sensitivity is typically the result of worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots. However, in some cases, tooth discomfort can be caused by other factors (such as a cavity, a cracked or chipped tooth etc.).

Your dentist can identify or rule out any underlying causes of your tooth pain.

Sometimes, treatment may be as simple as fixing a cavity or replacing a worn filling. Your dentist may also show you more effective tooth brushing methods.

Treatment approach may vary depending on the circumstances:

Last review and update: February 2019

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