What Causes Tooth Sensitivity & How to Treat It?

Woman eating ice cream with sensitive teeth

Tooth sensitivity (hypersensitivity) is a common dental condition that affects 1 in 8 Americans. Hypersensitivity is characterized by a sharp pain in the teeth when exposed to hot or cold temperatures. In some cases, the pain may also be triggered by sweet or acidic foods.

Tooth sensitivity can occur for several reasons, including gum disease, tooth decay, and worn-down tooth enamel. It is vital to seek treatment if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity, as it can be an extremely painful experience. Left untreated, it can lead to more serious dental problems like tooth decay or gum disease.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

For many people, tooth sensitivity is a relatively common problem. However, the issue can be debilitating for those who suffer from frequent or severe sensitivity. Several factors can contribute to tooth sensitivity, including:

Exposed Tooth Roots

Exposed tooth roots occur when the gums recede due to gum disease or other factors like over-brushing or dry mouth. When exposed, the roots are more vulnerable to acid erosion and increased sensitivity to hot, cold, sweet, and acidic stimuli.

Worn Tooth Enamel

Enamel is the hard, outermost layer of the teeth that protects the dentin from damage. Over time, it can become worn down by acid byproducts produced by the bacteria in your mouth and acidic foods.

When the enamel is worn away, the underlying layer of dentin is exposed. Dentin is much softer than enamel and is full of tiny tubules that lead to the nerves in the teeth. When the dentin is exposed, it can cause a sharp, shooting pain in the teeth.


Cavities occur when tooth enamel is weakened by acids, allowing bacteria to penetrate the tooth and cause decay. If left untreated, cavities can lead to more severe problems, including root canal infections and tooth loss. The best way to prevent cavities is to practice good oral hygiene, including brushing twice daily and regularly flossing.

A Cracked or Chipped Tooth

A fracture or chip weakens the tooth enamel or exposes the dentin, creating a pathway for bacteria to enter the tooth. Once inside, the bacteria can attack the nerves, leading to pain. The crack or chip may also expose the roots of the teeth, which can worsen the sensitivity.

How to Treat Sensitive Teeth

There are several ways to treat sensitive teeth. The best way to treat your sensitivity depends on the underlying cause.

Modify Your Diet

Avoid acidic foods and drinks. Acidic substances can wear away the enamel on the teeth, which can expose the dentin and make the teeth more sensitive.

If you consume acidic or sugary substances, rinse your mouth with fresh water afterward. Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after eating acidic foods. Brushing can remove the weakened enamel, leaving your teeth more prone to sensitivity.

Use Desensitizing Toothpaste

Several kinds of toothpaste on the market are specifically designed to reduce sensitivity. These toothpastes contain ingredients like potassium nitrate, stannous fluoride, and strontium chloride that can help to remineralize teeth and block the pores in the dentin to protect the nerves.

Unclench Your Teeth

Clenching or grinding your teeth can wear down the enamel and cause sensitivity. To help reduce sensitivity, visit your dentist to get fitted for a custom mouth guard to wear at night. These night guards act as shock absorbers, eliminate friction between your teeth, and position your jaw to reduce the effects of teeth grinding.

Visit Hinsdale Dental for Sensitive Teeth Treatment

A sensitive tooth can be a sign of several dental problems, so it’s essential to see your dentist if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort.

If you’re concerned about a sensitive tooth, contact a dentist at Hinsdale Dental or call us at (630) 323-5200 to schedule an appointment. We’ll help you find the cause of your discomfort and develop a treatment plan to keep your smile healthy and pain-free.

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