What is tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is a chronic condition that causes bursts of sharp pain within the teeth. The pain, which can go deep into the nerve, is usually triggered by hot, cold, sweet or sour foods and drinks. 

What causes tooth sensitivity?
  • over-brushing
  • tooth decay around the gum line
  • gum recession
  • cracked teeth
  • gum disease
  • accumulation of plaque
  • teeth grinding
  • tooth whitening products
  • long-term use of mouthwash
The first step in dealing with tooth sensitivity is consulting with dental professionals experienced in dealing with these issues. Treatments for tooth sensitivity include applying dentin sealers or fluoride varnishes to exposed roots and using bonding materials to cover the root surface. 
Peggy Rosen
When the outer layer of tooth structure (enamel) is worn down or gums have receded, causing the tiny tube in the dentin to be exposed. The movement of fluid within tiny tubes located in the dentin caused nerve irritation resulting in tooth sensitivity or pain which can be triggered by eating or drinking hot or cold foods or beverages, eating acidic food, brushing, breathing or exposing them to cold air.
If you've ever suffered a painful sensation in your teeth from drinking or eating something hot or cold, that's sensitive teeth. Cavities and fractured teeth can cause sensitive teeth. But if your dentist has ruled these problems out, then worn tooth enamel, a cracked tooth or an exposed tooth root may be the cause.

Your teeth contain small hollow tubes or canals, called dentin, that when it loses its protective covering allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth. This causes hypersensitivity and occasional discomfort. Fortunately, the irritation does not cause permanent damage to the pulp. Dentin may be exposed when gums recede. The result can be hypersensitivity near the gum line.

Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing gums from receding and causing sensitive-tooth pain. If you brush your teeth incorrectly or even over-brush, gum problems can result. Ask your dentist if you have any questions about your daily oral hygiene routine.
Tooth sensitivity is usually fairly straightforward: your teeth hurt when you eat or drink something cold or hot, or when you brush or floss. In some cases, the cause is a cavity. In others, it's a cracked tooth, a gum problem, or a tooth that's lost much of its protective enamel.

The cause could be as simple as brushing your teeth too vigorously. If you have tooth sensitivity, see your dentist. He or she will examine your teeth and gums and can prescribe a desensitizing toothpaste, which contain compounds that block sensations that make your teeth hurt. 
Dan Jenkins
Tooth sensitivity is a reaction to a nerve being exposed due either to decay, leaking fillings or crowns, or receding gums.

The teeth tend to be more sensitive to cold than hot. If a tooth is sensitive to hot and it lasts for more than just a few minutes after taking the heat source away you may have an abscessed tooth!
Tooth sensitivity is a different feeling in a tooth usually related to being exposed to hot, cold, or sweet items. Teeth that have cavities may be sensitive. Teeth that have exposed roots from gums receding may be sensitive. If your teeth are sensitive, you should see your dentist who can best advise you as to how to treat your tooth sensitivity.

Continue Learning about Tooth Sensitivity

What makes my teeth sensitive to cold?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
Cavities and fractured teeth can cause sensitive teeth. But if your dentist has ruled these problems...
More Answers
How can I decrease tooth sensitivity?
Jonathan B. Levine, DMDJonathan B. Levine, DMD
If you're beginning to experience sensitivity, you can try an over-the-counter desensitizing toothpa...
More Answers
Why are my teeth sensitive to hot foods and drinks?
Tooth sensitivity can be caused by sensitivity in the dentin, pulp, or both. Both dentin and pul...
More Answers
What causes tooth sensitivity?
Dr. Devon V. Berry, DMDDr. Devon V. Berry, DMD
Tooth sensitivity can be caused by a number of things, including: tooth decay or cavities grin...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.