Sensitive Information: Tooth Sensitivity

What is dentin hypersensitivity?

Dentin hypersensitivity, more commonly referred to as sensitive teeth, can be defined as short, sharp pains that come from exposed dentin (the layer of tissue found beneath the hard enamel that contains the inner pulp). Individuals with sensitive teeth may find that the pain can be triggered by hot, cold, sour, or sweet beverages or foods, forceful brushing or flossing, or even cold air. 

What causes the sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is caused by movement of fluid within the pores located in the dentin, which results in nerve irritation. When the hard enamel of a tooth is worn down or the gums have receded, the surfaces of these pores can become exposed, resulting in pain while eating or drinking certain foods, such as ice cream or hot coffee.  

How common is this condition?

This is one of the most common complaints among dental patients. One in five people in the US experience dentin hypersensitivity at some point in his or her life.


How can I avoid dentin hypersensitivity?

Excessive consumption of acidic beverages, such as orange juice or soda, can wear down hard enamel and put you at risk for dentin hypersensitivity. Limiting your consumption of acidic foods and beverages can prevent the erosion of hard enamel. Conditions such as bulimia and acid reflux also can have similar erosive effects. Abrasion of the enamel from aggressive use of a toothbrush can also lead to hypersensitivity. 


I have dentin hypersensitivity. What can I do to prevent pain?

Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and brushing in a circular motion will minimize enamel abrasion and thus reduce sensitivity. Using toothpaste containing a desensitizing agent that protects exposed dentin by blocking the pores connected to nerves can alleviate pain. In-office treatments, such as topical agents or sealants, can be applied by a dentist to help reduce sensitivity. Of course, limiting your intake of acidic foods and beverages is always recommended.