Getting to the root of sensitive teeth

Do you get a sudden pain when you eat or drink anything hot or cold? You may have sensitive teeth. Here’s what you can do…


It’s thought that 1 in 8 people suffers from sensitive teeth. But how much do you know about this dental problem?

What are sensitive teeth?

You may have felt a short sharp pain when drinking or eating anything hot, cold, sweet or sour. Sensitivity feels a bit like toothache but happens instantly on contact and fairly quickly fades away. It may also be more noticeable at some times than others.

What causes tooth sensitivity?

Sensitivity is most often caused when the enamel making up the tooth’s outer wears away, or when this happens with the tissue between the tooth and gum, known as cementum. This means the dentin – comprising small connecting pathways from the tooth to the nerve – is exposed.

Enamel erosion is largely caused by acidic diets which cause acid wear; however, a US study found there could be other reasons such as at-home tooth whitening kits.

What’s more, sensitivity can be caused by other dental problems such as a cavity, inflamed gums (gum disease), receding gums, a cracked tooth or filling, or even overzealous brushing which removes the enamel. Bulimia or acid reflux (GERD) may also cause sensitive teeth through acid wear.

Who suffers from sensitive teeth?

Although everyone suffers from sensitive teeth at some point, the study found that those aged 18-44 were three and a half times more likely to suffer than older patients. It’s thought that is because the dentin which protects the teeth thickens as you get older.

Women were also almost twice as likely to experience tooth sensitivity.

What are the treatments for sensitive teeth?

Since ignoring sensitivity can make you more vulnerable to tooth decay, it’s best to treat it as soon as you can. There are a couple of things you can do to manage your tooth sensitivity:

At home

Brushing with a soft-bristled toothbrush and low-abrasion fluoride toothpaste at a 45-degree angle to your gumline can help as it causes less wear to the tooth surface. It’s also recommended to brush in a circular pattern rather than side to side. You can also rub a sensitive toothpaste directly onto the affected area for around a minute to help relieve pain and encourage remineralisation.

If your diet is fairly acidic, try cutting back on items such as alcohol, citrus fruits, foods/sweets containing citric acid, and fizzy drinks – even carbonated water or sugar-free carbonated drinks. Switch these up for more dairy and plain water.

Another top tip is not to brush within an hour of eating acidic foods as they soften your tooth enamel making it more prone to erosion.

At the dentist

Visit your dentist if you worry your sensitivity is getting worse or could be a symptom of another problem. This includes if you regularly experience bleeding gums when brushing and/or flossing that doesn’t improve, you think tooth whitening could be behind it, you experience intense and prolonged sensitivity to sweet foods or you think you grind your teeth.

Your dentist will be able to check your teeth and gums for signs of decay, wear, cracks or gum disease which could be the culprit. They may even suggest solutions such as a night guard, a desensitising toothpaste or be able to advise on other ways to minimise sensitivity.

Don’t suffer in silence – get help for your sensitive teeth and book an appointment with our Notting Hill dentist at Number 18 Dental today.

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