Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Dental Health
By: Spirit Dental
July 31, 2018

Man and daughter eating ice cream

Do you suffer from tooth sensitivity? Well, you certainly aren’t alone. This common condition can make it difficult for you to enjoy your favorite hot and/or cold foods and drinks, which is a real bummer.

Determining the reason for your sensitivity can be your first step in getting relief. To learn more about what might be to blame, check out this list of some of the main causes of tooth sensitivity.

First, a Quick Lesson on Tooth Anatomy

Picture a healthy tooth. There will be a layer of strong enamel on the outside of the tooth to protect the crown, and there will also be a layer of cementum to shield the root underneath the gum line. Beneath the cementum and the enamel will be the tooth’s dentin, which is less dense.

If the enamel or the cementum wears away, the dentin will become increasingly sensitive to cold and heat, as well as foods that are sticky or acidic. That’s because there are tubules within the dentin that let the aggravating qualities from foods and drinks reach and stimulate the nerves in the tooth. And that’s why you might experience hypersensitivity when you drink or chew certain foods, or even when you breathe in and out through your mouth. Ouch!

What Can Cause Your Teeth to Become Sensitive?

There are several ways that your enamel or cementum could be worn away, leading to increased discomfort when eating and drinking.  

  1. Tooth Decay & Damage: If there is tooth decay present, if a tooth is fractured or broken, or if a filling is leaky or worn out, the dentin of the tooth might be exposed, leading to sensitivity. Seeing your dentist, who can make necessary repairs to the tooth, can make your tooth feel fabulous again.
  2. Diet: Your teeth can erode over time if you consume too many acidic foods and drinks, such as coffee, wine, soda, orange juice, pickled foods, tomatoes, and citrus fruits. Sugary foods, such as cake, cookies, ice cream, and candy, can also contribute to the formation of acids that break down teeth. As enamel wears away, the inner parts of a tooth become more exposed and you start to feel the sensitivity. Pro tip: check out our list of the best and worst foods for your teeth so you can vary your diet and take a step towards protecting those pearly whites.
  3. Receding Gums: Gum recession can leave the roots of your teeth exposed and vulnerable, and that could result in sensitivity. If you start to notice that your gums are beginning to look as though they’re pulling away from your teeth, talk to your dentist to find out what’s causing the gum recession so that it can be resolved.  
  4. Gum Disease: If you have periodontal disease that has infected your gums and the bone that supports your teeth, you may experience sensitivity. Leaving this condition untreated will allow it to progress to the point that your gums separate from your teeth, creating pockets where bacteria can thrive and cause a lot of damage, including tooth loss. Super scary!
  5. Brushing All Wrong: You could end up wearing away your enamel by brushing your teeth too hard, or by using a toothbrush that has stiff, hard bristles. Plus, brushing too hard isn’t only capable of damaging your enamel; it could also lead to gum injuries and gum recession. That’s why experts recommend brushing with gentle pressure and using a soft-bristled toothbrush. How can you know if you’re brushing too hard? Well, you might find yourself going through toothbrushes more often than you should.
  6. Grinding Your Teeth: If you grind your teeth at night or clench your jaw a lot during the day, the outer layer of your chompers can become damaged as a result of the pressure and friction. Consider talking to your dentist about bruxism and the treatments available to combat it.
  7. Dental Treatments: After you have your teeth cleaned, they might feel sensitive for a little while. This should be temporary. The same holds true after your dentist has placed a filling or a crown. If the sensitivity continues, however, discuss your symptoms with your dentist.
  8. Whitening Treatments: Everyone wants a beautiful white smile, but whitening your teeth can cause them to feel sensitive temporarily as well. Whether you whiten your teeth at home or at the dentist’s office, sensitivity might be a side effect, so you don’t want to overdo it and bleach your teeth too often.  

Feeling Sensitive? Time to Make an Appointment with Your Dentist!

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity that just won’t go away, or if the sensitivity is getting worse, it’s best to call your dentist and make an appointment. After a thorough exam, your dentist will be able to figure out the cause of your tooth sensitivity, as well as offer up some treatment options. The solution might be as simple as switching to a desensitizing toothpaste, or as complex as a surgical gum graft, depending upon the reason for your discomfort and the level of damage.  

Tooth sensitivity isn’t any fun at all, but if you work with your dentist, there’s hope that you can get the relief that you need so you can eat and drink without pain. 


Search for Resources


Senior Dental Health
Eye Health
Children's Dental Health
Dental Health