A woman with dental pain has her hand against her cheek

How to Deal With Sensitive Teeth

Forty-five million adults experience a sharp twinge when eating hot or cold foods and drinks, brushing or flossing, or even breathing cold air. Sensitive teeth happen when the tooth’s enamel, the hard, protective outer layer, is worn down or missing. This exposes the dentin layer which is sensitive to hot and cold.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Despite its strength, tooth enamel can be eroded by exposure to acids along with wear and tear. Because once your enamel is gone, it’s gone forever, you should be aware of how enamel can be eroded:

  • brushing your teeth too hard or using a hard-bristled toothbrush
  • using an abrasive toothpaste
  • bleaching your teeth
  • drinking large amounts of soda (high levels of phosphoric and citric acids)
  • fruit drinks (some acids in fruit drinks are more erosive than battery acid)
  • dry mouth or low salivary flow (xerostomia)
  • a diet high in sugar and starches
  • Acid reflux disease (GERD)

How Your Dentist Can Help With Sensitive Teeth

Your dentist can identify or rule out any underlying causes of sensitivity to protect your teeth from getting worse. Depending on the circumstances, your dentist might recommend:

  • Desensitizing toothpaste: After several applications, desensitizing toothpaste can sometimes help block pain. Ask your dentist which product might work best for you. Keep in mind, desensitizing toothpaste only treats symptoms after the fact—it can’t cure your sensitivity.
  • Fluoride: Your dentist might apply fluoride to the sensitive areas of your teeth to strengthen tooth enamel and reduce pain. They might also suggest using a prescription fluoride at home, applied via a custom tray.
  • Desensitizing or bonding: Exposed root surfaces sometimes can be treated by applying bonding resin to the sensitive root surfaces. This procedure may require the use of a local anesthetic.
  • Surgical gum graft: Exposed roots can be protected, and sensitivity reduced, by a surgical graft. This involves taking a small amount of gum tissue from elsewhere in your mouth and attaching it to the affected site.
  • Root canal: If pain is severe and other treatments aren’t effective, your dentist might recommend a root canal to treat problems in the tooth’s soft core (dental pulp). While this may sound extreme, it’s considered the most successful technique for eliminating tooth sensitivity.
  • Night guard: If your teeth are sensitive because you grind your teeth in your sleep, your dentist can make a model of your teeth to make a mouthguard you can wear at night. By protecting your teeth from pressure and damage, this mouthguard can be highly effective at reducing the pain caused by sensitive teeth. It will also treat pain in the jaw joint.