Tooth Sensitivity: What Does It Mean?

Woman holding her cheek and a glass of ice water.

For some people, eating and drinking hot or cold substances can cause significant discomfort, which often makes it difficult to enjoy certain foods and beverages and perform daily oral care like brushing and flossing. It is also important to come to see a best dentist in Boston regularly, like all of our great dentists at Dental Partners of Boston!

What is tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity (dentin hypersensitivity) occurs when a tooth’s dentin is exposed due to the loss of protective covering: Dentin is protected by three layers—enamel, cementum, and the gums. When this protective layer erodes (due to tooth damage, cavity, cracked or chipped tooth, etc.), heat, acidity, or cold can penetrate the root canal and pulp, causing sensitivity.

It’s worth noting, tooth sensitivity can be mild or chronic and can affect one or several teeth. Fortunately, the condition is treatable, and we can help you find the right solution.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity can occur for various reasons and consulting us is the best way to know the underlying cause and the right treatment. Here are some of the causes of tooth sensitivity:

Gum disease

Gum diseases such as periodontal disease and gingivitis can damage gum tissue, which causes gums to recede. This can expose the nerve endings of the root, making them susceptible to heat, cold, and acidity.

Brushing, flossing regularly, and dental cleaning are important in removing plaque, which is attributed to causing the first stages of gum disease.

Tooth decay

Untreated cavities and worn-out dental fillings can expose a tooth’s nerve endings, making them sensitive to cold. As such, a change in temperature causes the affected tooth to react.

Acidic foods

Acidic and sugary foods and beverages, including soda, refined carbohydrates, candy, citrus fruits, and coffee, can erode the enamel, exposing the more sensitive dentin. Consuming sugary and acidic foods in moderation can help reduce the risk of tooth sensitivity.

Brushing too hard

Brushing vigorously using a hard-bristle brush can wear the enamel and expose the dentin, causing tooth sensitivity. It can also cause your gums to recede, which exposes the dentin and consequently leads to tooth sensitivity.

Grinding your teeth

Grinding your teeth while sleeping is also a common reason why the enamel wears off, resulting in tooth sensitivity. When the dentin is less protected, your teeth become sensitive to cold and heat.

Frequent use of whitening products

Some teeth whitening products contain chemicals that can damage your teeth by causing the enamel to wear down over time. Mouthwashes that contain alcohol are also known to cause tooth sensitivity.

Recent dental procedure

Routine dental procedures such as fillings, tooth restoration, crown placement, and professional cleaning can trigger tooth sensitivity. However, sensitivity due to these procedures is temporary and tends to go away over the course of two weeks.

How to treat tooth sensitivity

Treatment for tooth sensitivity depends on the underlying cause, a reason you should have a dental examination to determine the best treatment option. Available treatment options include:

  • Fluoride Treatment – Fluoride treatment helps to strengthen your enamel. Your doctor may also prescribe fluoride paste and fluoride rinse to protect the enamel.
  • Hygiene treatment – Professional cleaning can work to remove plaque that has built up on your teeth, which can cause gum irritation and sensitivity.
  • Healthier brushing habits – Replacing your hard-bristle toothbrush with a soft-bristled one can help eliminate tooth sensitivity. Also, avoid brushing too vigorously to keep the enamel from wearing down fast. Be on the lookout for light bleeding, as it could mean you are brushing too hard.
  • Dietary changes – Reducing your consumption of acidic foods saves your enamel from dissolving and exposing the dentin. Acidic foods tend to aggravate sensitivity and trigger pain.
  • Dental crown and filling – Depending on how much enamel has been lost, dental restoration is a helpful way to strengthen a sensitive tooth. For instance, a crack can be solved through bonding, while crowning can work to rebuild the tooth’s structure. These procedures are effective in alleviating tooth sensitivity.
  • Wearing a mouth guard – If you tend to grind your teeth in your sleep, you are more prone to teeth sensitivity. A sign that you grind your teeth is always waking up with an aching jaw headache, earache, and face pain. Wearing a mouth guard prevents you from clenching and grinding your teeth.
  • Root canal therapy – This treatment method involves drilling the affected tooth to remove tissue and replacing it with synthetic material. It is then sealed with a crown to protect the dentin.
  • Gum graft – If your tooth has lost gum tissue, your dentist can take a small amount of tissue from a different part of your mouth and attach it to the affected site. This helps to protect the exposed roots, hence reducing sensitivity.
  • Desensitizing or bonding – Bonding resin can be applied to the exposed and sensitive root surface to reduce sensitivity.

How to avoid tooth sensitivity

While you can’t entirely prevent tooth sensitivity, you can at least lower the risk by taking proper care of your dental health and adhering to your doctor’s advice. Here are a few tips on how to keep tooth sensitivity at bay:

  • Cut down on sugar and acidic foods and drinks
  • Incorporate calcium in your diet to strengthen your enamel and rebuild your teeth
  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle brush and fluoride toothpaste
  • Wear a mouth guard so as not to clench and grind your teeth as you sleep
  • Keep up with the doctor’s appointments
  • Take a break from using teeth whitening products to avoid eroding your teeth’ enamel


Tooth sensitivity can occur due to various reasons, including diet, tooth decay, grinding your teeth, gum disease, and so on. Consulting us can help get to the root cause of your tooth sensitivity. Essentially, observing dental hygiene, brushing and flossing every day, and visiting our office every six months for a dental checkup can help keep tooth sensitivity at bay. Contact us for an appointment today if you’re experiencing any kind of sensitivity or pain.

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