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Sensitive Teeth: Causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

23 September · 4 minutes

Pain from sensitive teeth is something up to 1 in 8 people may suffer. From feeling a pinch when biting into an ice cream or any other cold food, to unbearable levels of pain when consuming common food and drinks, sensitive teeth can have a negative impact on many people.

This sensitivity is most often caused by worn or exposed tooth dentine. Knowing the causes of worn enamel and understanding how to prevent this could help you make sensitive teeth pain a thing of the past.

Symptoms of sensitive teeth

The main symptom of sensitive teeth is pain or discomfort when your teeth come into contact with food and drink. The level of pain can vary vastly depending on the severity of the sensitivity and the type of food or drink you consume. Substances known to cause sensitive teeth include foods and drinks that are: hot, cold, sweet, acidic, or alcohol-based. You may also find that your symptoms both come and go without reason and the severity of the pain may ease or become worse, again without an apparent reason. 

Picture of an ice cream, a type of food that can cause sensitive teeth

Causes of sensitive teeth

There are a number of things that cause sensitive teeth. Some of the most common causes of sensitive teeth include eating and drinking very acidic or sweet foods which wear down enamel. The same goes for people who use the wrong type of toothpaste, especially abrasive toothpastes which aim to whiten your teeth as these also cause wear on the enamel. If you suffer from gum disease or gum recession, you may suffer sensitive teeth pain as the surface of the tooth becomes exposed.

An often unexpected cause of pain can be sensitive teeth during pregnancy. The change in hormones, increased blood flow and a higher risk of gum disease can lead to pregnant individuals suffering from noticeable discomfort. Below, we talk through some other common causes of sensitive teeth.

Sensitive teeth after whitening

Sensitive teeth pain after whitening is not uncommon. The pain is caused by the treatment because, in order for the dental bleaching agents to work well, the substance has to make its way deep into the enamel. As a result, the whitening chemicals enter the microscopic channels in your teeth’s enamel which lead to nerves. This results in a sharp pain when you eat or drink. The good news is, sensitive teeth pain after whitening only tends to last a few days as the bleaching agents enter the enamel. 

Sensitive teeth after extraction

While most people expect some level of pain after having a tooth extracted, it can come as a surprise to some when they suffer from sensitive teeth. However, it isn’t at all uncommon to experience sensitive teeth after extraction. This is most likely caused by more exposed enamel near the site of the extracted tooth, or it can be a result of the inflammation caused by the operation or even a change in the bite and structure of your mouth. The pain should reduce naturally as the inflammation settles and your mouth adapts to the change.

Sensitive teeth after veneers, crowns or implants

As with any alterations of the mouth, getting veneers, crowns or implants can cause a degree of sensitivity. When getting veneers, dentists remove enamel from the teeth so that the veneers don’t look unnatural. However, as with any enamel removal, the rest of the tooth can become more sensitive to hot, cold, sweet and acidic substances. However, once your permanent veneers have been fitted and bonded, they provide protection from sensitive teeth. For anybody experiencing pain after these treatments, the discomfort should ease within a few days or weeks.

The same applies for people noticing pain after getting crowns, receiving an implant, or experiencing sensitive teeth after hygienist visits. The main cause is likely to be the disruption of the outer layer of enamel but once the crowns or implants have settled, the sensitive teeth pain should settle too.

How to prevent sensitive teeth

Dentist in a clinic

Given that the most common cause of sensitive teeth is a gradual breakdown in the protective layer of enamel on the outer surface of the teeth, there are a few ways to prevent this from happening in the first place.

  • It is recommended to use an appropriate tooth brush. Your dentist can tell you which is your best option.
  • You shouldn’t apply too much pressure when brushing as this again can cause excessive wear. A correct brushing technique can help to avoid dental sensitivity.
  • Remember to brush your teeth on a regular basis.
  • Visit your dentist at the recommended intervals so you can maintain optimal dental health.
  • Try not to consume too many acidic or sweet foods.
  •  You should avoid unproven home remedies for teeth whitening and should always seek dentist’s advice about safe home whitening materials before proceeding.
  • Finally, if you grind your teeth, ask for advice from your dentist as this is a known cause of tooth sensitivity. 

How to stop severe cases of sensitive teeth

While dentists will likely suggest a range of possible treatments for sensitive teeth, sometimes the pain caused by sensitive teeth can become so disruptive that more extreme measures must be taken to resolve the issue. These might include:

  • A surgical gum graft. If a person has gum disease or has dental issues where the gum tissue has eroded from the root of a tooth, a gum graft could be fitted to form a barrier between the two and prevent sensitive teeth. This procedure must be decided by a periodontist.
  • Similarly, treatments like gingival curettage and root planning may be beneficial for people with gum disease to maintain good gum health and avoid sensitivity.

Sensitive teeth and orthodontics

Experiencing sensitive teeth after receiving orthodontic treatment is not at all uncommon. Often, when brackets and wires are placed on the teeth, causing the structure of your teeth to change, some people experience pain. Despite not having any scientific studies available regarding this subject, our experts determine that less invasive forms of realignment such as Impress’ invisible aligners are shown to cause less sensitivity, although you should always seek your dentist’s advice before getting orthodontic treatment if you have sensitive teeth.

Lady holding an Impress' aligner, which causes less teeth sensitivity than traditional orthodontics

If you’re interested in getting discreet, convenient and comfortable orthodontic treatment take a look at our treatments, all offered at a competitive price. Our clinical approach is fundamental to your oral health and so if you would like to talk to one of our experts about the options available to you, book an appointment with us through our website, email us at uk@smile2impress.com or call/WhatsApp us on +44 20 3808 1072.

Frequently Asked Questions about Teeth Sensitivity

Why are my teeth sensitive to cold?

When enamel wears away and the nerves ending in the dentine become more exposed, they send pain signals to the brain when they come into contact with any strong substances, be it extra cold foods, acidic foods, or very sweet foods.

What deficiency causes sensitive teeth?

Various vitamin deficiencies have been proven to cause sensitive teeth. These include calcium, known for strengthening our bones. A lack of vitamin D can cause cavities, leading to sensitive teeth. Finally, a lack of vitamin B12 can increase the risk of suffering gum disease. If your gums recede or separate themselves from your teeth, you risk suffering sensitive teeth pain.

Will painkillers help sensitive teeth?

Traditional painkillers are not guaranteed to help sensitive teeth pain. However, oral analgesics and desensitizing toothpastes could prove beneficial temporarily.

How long will sensitive teeth last?

The duration of sensitivity depends on its cause. If you have sensitive teeth after veneers, a crown or an implant then pain may disappear within a few days or a few weeks. If the sensitivity has been caused by a gradual wearing-down of enamel, then the sensitivity may never disappear completely, but it can be managed. 

Can sensitive teeth cause headaches?

There is a definite connection between pain from sensitive teeth and headaches. This is because tooth pain triggers one of the largest nerves in the head - the trigeminal nerve. Triggering this nerve can lead to both headaches and migraines. Leaving severe tooth pain untreated can lead to an increase in migraine episodes, causing further disruption to your daily life.

Are sensitive teeth a symptom of COVID?

So far, there is no clear evidence that sensitive teeth are a symptom of COVID, nor does it appear to have any direct link with COVID. 

Are sensitive teeth genetic?

For most people, developing sensitive teeth is not genetic. However, in rare cases some people may have enamel hypoplasia or dentinogenesis imperfecta which are genetic disorders.

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