Sensitive teeth can cause discomfort when eating ice cream or drinking hot beverages.  It can feel like a toothache; only the dentist can tell for sure if it is a toothache or just sensitive teeth.

If you have sensitive teeth, you can talk to your dental provider about tooth desensitizing.

What is tooth sensitivity?

The tooth has four layers: the enamel, the dentin, the cementum, and the pulp.  When the hard enamel covering the tooth is eroded, or when the gums have receded, tiny tubes in the dentin are exposed. Tooth sensitivity is caused by liquid moving in these tubes, irritating the nerves.  Eating or drinking hot or cold food or beverages, touching the teeth, or exposing them to cold air can cause pain in sensitive teeth.  Tooth sensitivity can affect your eating, drinking, and even breathing habits.

Causes of sensitive teeth

Some factors can cause sensitive teeth.  Excessive consumption of acidic food and beverages, such as citrus juices and fruits and soft drinks, can put you at risk for tooth sensitivity.  Other causes include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Bone loss
  • Teeth grinding
  • Smoking
  • Brushing too hard
  • Bulimia
  • Acid reflux

These factors can contribute to wearing away of enamel and gums, exposing the dentin and leading to sensitivity. Using a soft-bristle toothbrush, avoiding acidic foods and beverages, and wearing a mouth guard can help protect the teeth and stop the enamel from wearing away.

Desensitizing sensitive teeth

Your dentist should be able to recommend tooth desensitizing options to help manage your tooth sensitivity. These can lessen the pain that occurs when the dentin and cementum of the teeth are exposed.

There are three types of desensitizing agents:

  • Fluoride: Fluoride helps with hypersensitivity in the dentin of the tooth and can be applied with toothpaste, mouthwash, gel, and other materials.
  • Varnish: A varnish can be placed over the tooth to protect the dentin tubes and prevent pain.
  • Bonding resins and dentin adhesives: Resins and adhesives can settle into the dentin tubs and cover the surface to stop the pain of sensitivity.

If you experience tooth sensitivity when eating or drinking, meet with your dental provider to discuss your options for tooth desensitization.  The dentist will check your teeth and suggest the appropriate treatment.