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Tooth Sensitivity FAQs


What is tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity, also described as a short, sharp pain, most frequently occurs when eating or drinking hot or cold food and drinks. You may also feel discomfort when consuming sweet or sour food and drinks, or when you brush your teeth and rinse with cold water. Many adults have only occasional tooth sensitivity. Some adults experience chronic pain. Tooth sensitivity may be an indication of an underlying dental problem. Please consult your dentist.

See About Sensitive Teeth

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Underneath the tooth's protective enamel coating is a highly porous layer called "dentin." Thousands of microscopic channels run through the dentin. Once dentin is exposed, the tooth can become susceptible to triggers such as cold food or drinks and you may feel a short, sharp pain.

See What Causes Sensitive Teeth

How can I protect against sensitive teeth?

Brushing with a sensitivity toothpaste such as Sensodyne® toothpaste is a good way to relieve sensitivity. In addition, you should avoid brushing too hard and to use a soft-bristled toothbrush specially designed for sensitive teeth. Taking good care of your teeth and seeing your dentist regularly can also help protect against conditions that contribute to sensitivity, such as gum disease, cavities and gum recession.

See Preventing Sensitivity

What triggers sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth can be caused by gum recession, loss of enamel or damage to teeth and gums. Temporary sensitivity can be caused by cosmetic professional or at-home whitening treatments. Sensitive teeth can hurt as a reaction to:

  • Cold foods or beverages
  • Hot foods or beverages
  • Sweet foods
  • Chemical stimulus

 See Sensitivity Triggers

Is tooth sensitivity a common dental problem?

Yes. Sensitive teeth affect many people, even young people, and can start at any time.

Is tooth sensitivity a sign of a more serious dental problem?

Often, tooth sensitivity, while bothersome, is not usually a sign of a serious dental condition. However, sensitive teeth may indicate an underlying dental problem requiring prompt care by a dentist. See your dentist as soon as possible for advice.

See When to See a Dentist

Can brushing too hard cause sensitive teeth?

Yes. Brushing too hard can lead to receding gums. Over time, it can also lead to wearing away of the tooth, which is another way dentin becomes exposed, causing sensitivity.

Can tooth whitening cause sensitivity?

Tooth whitening treatments are becoming increasingly popular. Typically, the ingredients in the products used for whitening are hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These are usually administered through a specially made tray (similar to a gum-shield). As the whitening agent is broken down, oxygen gets into the enamel on the teeth and the tooth color is made lighter. Tooth sensitivity is widely recognized as being associated with tooth bleaching procedures. There is no exact science to predicting if you will experience sensitivity but reports suggest that up to 80% of patients using bleaching will experience some sensitivity. Be sure to discuss this with your dentist prior to any treatment.

See Whitening Treatments and Sensitivity