Sensitive Teeth 


Sensitive teeth are a very common condition.  Sensitive teeth cause brief pain or discomfort when the teeth come in contact with hot or cold temperatures from the air, food, or beverages.  Cavities, cracked teeth, eroded teeth, and gum disease are frequent causes of sensitive teeth.  Sensitive teeth are treated with special toothpaste, professional dental sealants, crowns or fillings. 

Sensitive teeth are caused by conditions that allow hot, cold, sticky, or acidic foods to have contact with the roots of the teeth.  Your teeth have a protective covering.  Enamel covers the crown or the part of tooth that you can see.  Cementum protects the root of the tooth underneath the gum line.  Underneath the enamel and cementum is a layer of dentin.  Dentin contains tiny canals that extend to the roots of your teeth.  If cavities or tooth decay erodes the enamel or cementum, the canals are exposed.  Cracked teeth can accelerate the decay process.

Over-brushing teeth and gum disease may also expose dentin.  Gum disease causes your gums to recede or move away from your teeth.  Cavity causing plaque easily fills the space and can harm the enamel and cementum. 

Sensitive teeth can result from several other causes.  Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and bulimia cause stomach acids to back up into the mouth and erode the teeth.  Teeth grinding is a leading cause of tooth fractures that can lead to decay.  People the use the illegal drug methamphetamine (“meth”) can experience sensitive teeth from devastating widespread tooth decay.  Methamphetamine contains corrosives that severely damage the teeth.  It also creates cravings for sugary foods that contribute to tooth decay.

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Hypersensitivity is the main symptom of sensitive teeth.  You may feel abrupt temporary pain or discomfort when your teeth are in contact with hot or cold air, foods, and beverages.  You may have gum disease and cracked, broken, or decayed teeth.

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Your dentist can diagnose sensitive teeth by reviewing your medical history, dental history, and examining your teeth.  You should tell your doctor about your symptoms.  Your dentist will examine your teeth for signs of decay. Your dentist will inspect your gums for swelling.  To test the sensitivity of your tooth, your dentist will gently tap your tooth and place hot and cold temperatures on it.
X-rays help to determine the health of your teeth, gums, and bones.  Cracks in teeth may not show up on X-rays.  Your dentist may use other methods to detect tooth cracks such as special dyes or instruments.

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Sensitive teeth are treated with special toothpaste, fluoride treatments, professional dental sealants, crowns or fillings.  Your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste for sensitive teeth.  This special type of toothpaste uses low abrasion and contains fluoride.  You may use prescription fluoride rinses or applications to prevent tooth decay.  In some cases, fluorides and dental sealants are professionally applied.  Your dentist will treat any cavities.
You can reduce your risk of sensitive teeth with good oral hygiene.  Brush and floss your teeth per your dentist’s instructions.  Use low abrasion toothpaste that is designed for sensitive teeth.  Contact your dentist when you experience hypersensitivity.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit