If you experience tooth sensitivity, you are not alone. Many people experience sensitivity while eating and drinking things like hot, cold, sweet, or sour. These sharp pains can seem to go straight through the tooth. Let’s dig in to see what causes tooth sensitivity and what you can do to stop it.
Below the surface: why are my teeth so sensitive?
Connecting the dots: food and drink connection to teeth sensitivity
Breaking the cycle: how to stop sensitive tooth pain
Why are my teeth so sensitive?
Sensitivity usually involves the outer two layers of the teeth: dentin and enamel.
- Enamel is the outermost layer that protects the tooth from damage with chewing and eating. It also insulates the tooth from hot and cold temperatures.
- Dentin is the second and largest layer of a tooth. It is softer than enamel and contains tiny pores called tubules.
The dentin tubules have direct access to the innermost part of the tooth, the pulp. The pulp is the nerve and blood supply of the tooth.
Dentin is typically covered with enamel, hidden below the gumline, or protected in the bone. Hypersensitivity most often occurs when the dentin becomes exposed in the mouth. This may happen for reasons like:
- Aggressive brushing. Either pressing your toothbrush too hard while brushing or using a toothbrush with too stiff bristles.
- Dental erosion. Commonly associated with acid reflux, vomiting, or frequent high-acidic foods and drinks.
- Gum recession. This can happen naturally with age but can commonly be related to gum disease as well.
- Clenching and grinding. The enamel can become weak and damaged as the teeth rub together.
- Whitening products. Some whitening products use harsh chemicals and abrasives that can increase sensitivity.
Sensitive teeth can affect as much as 30% of the population and can happen at any age. Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks is one of the most common complaints of patients to dental professionals.
Food and drink connection to teeth sensitivity
Our teeth are unique in that they only react with pain if there is a direct stimulus. This is a natural protective reaction of the tooth. When the tooth nerve perceives danger, it alerts you by signaling pain. So, when the dentin becomes exposed, certain foods and drinks can trigger a premature response from the nerve. Therefore, your tooth is trying to protect itself from more damage by alerting you in the only way it can.
The most common things teeth become hypersensitive to are:
Hot and cold
It is common for things like ice cream, tea, and coffee to cause tooth pain. In fact, teeth being sensitive to cold and hot is one of the most common complaints for mild dental discomfort. The tooth nerve reacts as the temperature moves through the dentinal tubules.
As most of us know, eating or drinking sugary foods increases the risk of cavities. But sugar also increases acid production in the mouth, weakening enamel and increasing hypersensitivity. Areas with exposed dentin are at greater risk for sensitivity as well. You may need to limit sugary drinks, candy, and desserts to prevent sensitivity.
Sour, citrus, and acidic foods
Citric acid can especially increase tooth sensitivity. When tooth structures encounter acid in fruits or sour foods, they become weaker and more susceptible to damage. Regular, repeated exposure weakens the tooth layers that protect the nerve, and the tooth reacts with pain. Common foods include fruits like pineapple, lemons, limes, pickles, tomatoes, and mustard.
How to stop sensitive tooth pain
If you have ever experienced sensitivity, you know it can be hard to stop sensitive teeth pain immediately. Treating tooth hypersensitivity really depends on the cause. For severe sensitivity or a sharp pain that lingers, you should schedule a dental visit to rule out serious issues. A cracked tooth, cavity, or dental infection can require more in-depth treatment.
Minor tooth sensitivity is common and can happen over time with normal eating and drinking. To help with this type of sensitivity, try one of these:
There are several home remedies that can help if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity.
- Oil pulling with coconut or sesame oil is one of the most common remedies. Studies suggest sesame oil may help reduce sensitivity better than desensitizing toothpaste.
- Gargling with warm salt water may also help. Warm salt water can help kill problematic bacteria as well as promote wound healing.
- Apply clove oil with a cotton swab. One study showed clove oil may be able to prevent decalcification and promote the remineralization of the enamel. Clove oil may be a great option since weakened enamel plays a major role in tooth sensitivity.
- Chewing sugar-free gum after meals. A study on sensitivity after whitening showed chewing sugar-free gum helped reduce sensitivity faster.
Dental products for sensitive teeth
Dental products can make a huge difference in dental hypersensitivity. A medium or hard bristle toothbrush can damage the tooth and gums, causing recession and sensitivity. Therefore, always stick with a soft or extra-soft bristle toothbrush.
Over-the-counter products, like toothpaste and mouthwash, are the most common treatment options. These products typically use one or more of the following ingredients:
These ingredients block the nerve from feeling by creating a layer that plugs the dentin tubules. You may notice less sensitivity with one use. However, the desensitizing effects become more noticeable over time. Therefore, you can replace your usual dental products with toothpaste or mouthwash for sensitive teeth for optimal results.
Sensitive teeth can be a pain. Treating tooth sensitivity can take time. There are many options out there. But, if you are struggling to find the right treatment, a dental professional can give you suggestions on how to treat sensitive teeth. Everyone deserves to keep their teeth healthy, happy, and pain-free.
Can tooth sensitivity go away?
Some tooth sensitivity can go away on its own. Especially if it is related to recent dental work or something you have eaten. However, tooth sensitivity can also be due to more serious dental conditions or other health issues. You should seek immediate dental care for a sharp pain that lingers or if it starts interfering with daily activities.
Do sensitive teeth hurt all the time?
Sensitivity can come and go. Most mild dental hypersensitivity can be related to weakened enamel or root exposures. These conditions can become worse depending on various circumstances. If you have sensitivity, avoid foods and activities that can worsen symptoms.
Will sensitive teeth get worse?
Sensitive teeth can start mild and get worse. If you are experiencing tooth sensitivity and home remedies are not working, contact your dentist, as it can be a sign of more severe dental issues.
Tooth sensitivity usually involves the outer two layers of the teeth: dentin and enamel.
Sensitivity to hot or cold food and drinks is one of the most common complaints of patients to dental professionals.
Minor tooth sensitivity is common and can happen over time with normal eating and drinking.
When the dentin becomes exposed, certain foods and drinks can trigger a premature response from the nerve.
Dental products can make a huge difference in dental hypersensitivity.
- Journal of Dentistry. Prevalence of dentin hypersensitivity: systematic review and meta-analysis.
- British Journal of General Practice. Understanding and managing dental and orofacial pain in general practice.
- International Journal of Dentistry. A clinical study comparing the efficacy of sesame oil with desensitizing tooth paste in reducing dentinal hypersensitivity: a randomized controlled trial.
- Gaceta Sanitaria. The effectiveness of 7% table salt concentration test to increase collagen in the healing process of wound.
- International Journal of Dentistry. In vitro inhibitory effect of clove essential oil and its two active principles on tooth decalcification by apple juice.
- British Dental Journal. Effect of chewing gum on tooth sensitivity following whitening.
- Journal of Applied Oral Science. Formulations of desensitizing toothpastes for dentin hypersensitivity: a scoping review.