For millions of people, sensitive teeth can make life
miserable. The pain and discomfort make even favorite hot or cold foods impossible to enjoy. All is not lost. In
many cases, sensitive teeth can be successfully treated bringing long sought after relief.
What Causes Sensitive Teeth (Dentin Hypersensitivity)?
Usually tooth sensitivity (dentin hypersensitivity) presents as temporary tooth
discomfort or pain after eating cold food, drinking cold liquids, or breathing cold air. ( If the pain is
very high in intensity and prolonged, see your dentist because this may be a sign of an unhealthy tooth nerve
Most commonly, the problem begins when the gums recede. Like a protective blanket, the gums cover
the roots of teeth (see diagram below). As gums recede, the underlying tooth roots are exposed. Gums commonly
recede for one of two reasons:
Improper heavy handed brushing of the teeth. It is estimated that 50-90% of people brush
with too much pressure. Over weeks, months and years of brushing they remove significant gum tissue
exposing the tooth roots.
Poor oral hygiene can lead to plaque build-up around teeth and gums. Over time this plaque
hardens into tartar. Bacteria in this tartar are responsible for the gingivitis and periodontal disease that cause gum recession.
The exposed roots contain small pores or tubules which lead directly to the nerve of the tooth. Pain, pressure, and
cold stimuli can travel down the tubules and trigger the tooth nerve causing pain and discomfort. Normally, the
gums cover the tooth root helping to prevent stimuli from reaching these pores.
The key to preventing tooth sensitivity is to keep the gums from receding. Reducing
the pressure we use to brush our teeth helps tremendously. The problem with this is that our tooth brushing
is an unconsciously ingrained habit reinforced after decades of brushing and therefore nearly impossible to
change. We advise people to use an advanced electric toothbrushes (plaque remover) like the Braun 3D Excel or
Sonicare. These toothbrushes feature pressure sensors that stop the brush when you apply too much pressure.
Another option is the Alert toothbrush, (part of our Sensitive Teeth Kit) which activates a warning light
when you brush too hard.
Preventing gingivitis and periodontal disease with proper oral hygiene is also
crucial in preventing gum recession. Remember, it takes 2 to 3 minutes to properly brush all your tooth
surfaces. Most people spend less than 45 seconds leaving areas untouched where plaque and tartar can build
up. Flossing is crucial in order to reach the 35% of the tooth surfaces where brushing can not
What can you do once you already experience sensitive teeth ? Sensitivity toothpastes containing
potassium nitrate can also help reduce tooth sensitivity. Sensodyne is the #1 Dentist recommended
toothpaste for sensitive teeth and is part of the our Sensitive teeth Kit. These toothpastes desensitize the
tooth nerve directly. Treating teeth with fluoride mouthwashes also can help reduce tooth
After a few weeks of use the sensitivity usually goes away. Unfortunately, the same heavy handed
brushing which caused the sensitivity in the first place can brush away the pore covers created by the
toothpaste. This will cause sensitivity to return. For this reason, we suggest that people use the Alert toothbrush while using sensitivity
toothpastes. This combination is found in our Sensitive teeth Kit
Additionally, highly acidic foods (citrus, soda pop, tea) can increase sensitivity and work against
the sensitivity toothpaste.
A major advance in treatment has been the introduction of sensitivity toothpastes containing
strontium chloride. These products, like Sensodyne and a host of others, coax the minerals in your
saliva to crystallize and cover the pores in your exposed roots so that cold stimuli can not reach the tooth
If you cannot get relief by brushing gently and using sensitivity toothpaste, your dentist has
several options for relief. Your dentist can use "oxalate" compounds that, when rubbed on the root, will
reduce if not eliminate the sensitivity. Many dentists prescribe high fluoride content mouthwashes which can
help reduce tooth sensitivity. Dentists may also apply "bonding agents" to close the pores of the tooth
Disclaimer: The information contained within is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to serve as delivery of medical care. Those persons with specific medical questions should consult their dentist, doctor, or other medical care provider.