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Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common dental complaints. People who suffer from tooth sensitivity will suffer pain when they eat or drink hot and/or cold foods. In some cases, even touching the teeth, or breathing puffs of air can cause discomfort and pain. Tooth sensitivity can be described as a short, sudden pain, which is usually prompted by an action such as drinking ice cold water. The initial painful sensation is typically followed by a dull ache. It is estimated that over forty million adults in the United States alone will suffer from sensitive teeth at least once in their lifetime. It’s important that you have a local dentist who will fully explain and help treat your sensitive teeth.


What makes a tooth sensitive to hot or cold?

Sensitive teeth are caused by the nerve irritation that takes place when fluid moves within tiny tubes in the dentin (the inner layer of the tooth) When tooth enamel becomes worn down, or if the gums have receded, the surfaces of these tiny tubes are exposed, resulting in pain when encountering hot or cold air, foods, or beverages. The pain caused by these exposed areas of the tooth can result in a change in drinking, eating, and breathing habits. Eating ice cream, for example, can be a particularly painful experience for someone with a tooth sensitive to cold. Not fun. Torturous even.

Furthermore, tooth sensitivity can be caused by grinding and clenching your teeth in your sleep or during awake hours.  Excessive grinding and clenching can lead to recession of the gums and the creation of small indentations in your tooth along the gum line.  As this indentation gets deeper due to grinding, the dentin gets exposed and this can lead to tooth sensitivity.   Your dentist can recommend treatments such as composite fillings to seal these indentations.  However, the underlying issue needs to be addressed by a night guard.  For more information on grinding and its detrimental effects please see our blog.

Visiting your dentist on a routine basis can reduce tooth sensitivity.  Plaque, which is a clear sticky film on your teeth can produce acids and lead to exacerbation of sensitivity.  Routine hygiene appointments can do wonders for your gum health and tooth sensitivity.


How can I avoid tooth sensitivity?

To prevent tooth sensitivity and the relieve discomfort, use a desensitizing toothpaste. These products contain a desensitizing agent that protects the exposed dentin. You may need to use the toothpaste regularly for at least a month before benefits can be felt. You can also speak with your dentist about other desensitizing methods, such as applying sealants, fluoride, and other filling materials.

Dentists use a variety of methods to treat tooth sensitivity, including both home-use products and in-office treatments. Once you’ve been diagnosed with dentin hypersensitivity, Dr. McDonald or Dr. Mallakis may treat it with a protective coating. You may also be prescribed a toothpaste with higher fluoride and potassium or strontium chloride. It may help to massage the prescribed paste onto your gums after brushing your teeth.

Decrease or eliminate your consumption of acid-containing foods. Constant snacking and/or drinking soda throughout the day can increase the acidity level in your mouth. Try to avoid these habits. In addition to sensitivity, that higher acid level can increase the risk for cavities, learn more about that here.

Make sure the toothbrush you’re using isn’t too abrasive. Hard-bristled toothbrushes can damage tooth enamel and expose sensitive areas. If the bristles of your toothbrush are bent in different directions, you’re brushing too hard.


After your treatment, be sure to follow your dentist’s instruction to prevent tooth sensitivity from returning. Eliminate all possible sources of irritation, such as soft drinks and acid-containing foods. Avoid using flavored toothpastes, and avoid any habits that cause excessive abrasion. Consider adding a daily fluoride application to your regimen in the form of a rinse or brush-on gel.

Dr. Rabee McDonald

I am a 1995 graduate of the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Dental Medicine and completed my post-doctorate training at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center at Newark, New Jersey. I am proud to provide my patients with the best in dental technology, treatment options and patient comfort. I spend several weekends a year at the world renowned Spear Education center to keep up with best dentists in the world.