What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Common Causes and Effective Treatments for Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is a widespread dental issue that affects millions of people around the world. This condition results in significant discomfort or pain when teeth are exposed to various stimuli, such as hot or cold temperatures, sweet or acidic foods, or even cold air. Grasping the root causes of tooth sensitivity is crucial for its effective prevention and management. This guide aims to explain all the factors contributing to tooth sensitivity and to provide detailed strategies for alleviating this condition, by promoting a healthier smile.

Table of Contents

Understanding Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity, also known as dentin hypersensitivity, occurs when the protective layers of the teeth, namely the enamel and cementum, become compromised, exposing the underlying dentin and nerve endings. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that connect to the tooth’s nerve center, allowing external stimuli such as hot, cold, sweet, or acidic substances to trigger discomfort or pain when they reach the nerves​. This exposure can lead to sharp, temporary pain or discomfort, particularly during activities such as eating, drinking, brushing, or even breathing cold air​.

Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Enamel Erosion

Enamel erosion is a primary cause of tooth sensitivity. It can occur due to various factors, including:

Acidic Foods and Beverages: Consuming acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, sodas, or vinegar-based dressings, can gradually wear down the enamel over time. The acid in these substances erodes the enamel, making the teeth more vulnerable to sensitivity​.

Acid Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or frequent vomiting can introduce stomach acids into the mouth, leading to enamel erosion. This condition causes stomach acids to travel up into the mouth, where they can erode the tooth enamel and increase sensitivity​​.

Environmental Factors: Exposure to environmental factors like pollution or chemical agents can contribute to enamel erosion. Chemicals in the environment or workplace can cause enamel wear, especially in individuals exposed to industrial chemicals or pollution​​.

Gum Recession

Gum recession, often caused by periodontal disease, aggressive brushing, or aging, exposes the tooth roots, which lack the protective enamel layer. Consequently, the underlying dentin becomes susceptible to sensitivity, particularly to hot and cold temperatures. Periodontal disease can cause the gums to recede and expose the roots, making them more sensitive to stimuli​

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay, commonly known as cavities, occurs when bacteria in the mouth produce acids that erode the enamel and dentin. Untreated cavities can progress to the tooth’s inner layers, increasing sensitivity and pain. The acids produced by bacteria break down the enamel and expose the dentin, leading to heightened sensitivity and discomfort.

Over time, if left untreated, the decay can reach the tooth’s pulp, causing severe pain and potentially leading to infection or abscess formation. Regular dental check-ups and proper oral hygiene practices are essential to prevent cavities and mitigate the progression of tooth deca

Tooth Grinding

Bruxism, the habit of grinding or clenching the teeth, can lead to significant enamel wear and damage to the tooth structure over time, ultimately exposing the dentin and nerve endings. This condition is often associated with stress, anxiety, or misaligned teeth, and if left unmanaged, it can result in substantial enamel loss and increased tooth sensitivity​​.

Bruxism not only contributes to tooth sensitivity but can also cause jaw pain, headaches, and other oral health issues. Managing bruxism typically involves stress reduction techniques, the use of mouthguards, and dental treatments to address misalignment

Tooth Whitening Products

While tooth whitening products can enhance the aesthetics of your smile, some formulations contain abrasive ingredients that may lead to enamel erosion and heightened tooth sensitivity, mainly when used excessively or incorrectly. The peroxide in whitening agents can penetrate the enamel and irritate the tooth nerves, causing increased sensitivity​​.

Cracked Teeth

Cracks or fractures in the teeth can expose the sensitive inner layers, leading to heightened sensitivity, particularly when chewing or biting hard objects. These cracks create pathways for bacteria to enter the tooth, causing inflammation and further increasing sensitivity. Over time, this can lead to more severe dental issues such as infections or abscesses, exacerbating the pain and discomfort.

Additionally, cracks can weaken the overall structure of the tooth, making it more prone to further damage and sensitivity issues. Identifying and treating these cracks promptly is essential to prevent complications and maintain oral health.

Dental Procedures

Specific dental treatments, such as professional cleanings, tooth restoration, or orthodontic procedures, may temporarily increase tooth sensitivity. This sensitivity typically resolves on its own but should be monitored and addressed by your dentist if persistent. Procedures like fillings, crowns, or teeth whitening can irritate the tooth and cause temporary sensitivity​​.


As we age, the enamel naturally wears down, and the gums may recede, increasing the risk of tooth sensitivity. Additionally, age-related conditions such as dry mouth or medication use can contribute to oral health issues, making the teeth more prone to sensitivity​​.

These factors can lead to a greater likelihood of experiencing discomfort when consuming hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods. The cumulative effect of these changes often necessitates more diligent oral care to maintain dental health and comfort in older adults.

Poor Oral Hygiene

Neglecting proper oral hygiene practices, such as infrequent brushing or flossing, can result in the accumulation of plaque and tartar. This buildup can lead to enamel erosion, gum disease, and ultimately, tooth sensitivity.

Consistent and meticulous dental cleaning is crucial to preventing these issues and minimizing sensitivity. Regular dental check-ups also play a vital role in maintaining oral health and catching potential problems early. Additionally, using dental products designed for sensitive teeth can further help manage and reduce discomfort associated with tooth sensitivity.

Toothbrush Abrasion

Brushing with excessive force or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can erode the enamel and irritate the gums, leading to increased tooth sensitivity. To prevent this, it is essential to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and employ gentle brushing techniques, which help to protect the enamel and maintain healthy gums.

Over time, harsh brushing can also contribute to gum recession, exposing the sensitive root surfaces of the teeth. Consistent use of proper brushing methods can significantly reduce the risk of enamel damage and gum irritation. Furthermore, incorporating fluoride toothpaste and regularly visiting your dentist for check-ups can enhance enamel strength and overall oral health.

Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatment

Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth

Using toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth can help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. Regular use can gradually reduce sensitivity. Desensitizing toothpaste typically contains compounds like potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride, which help to block nerve signals and strengthen enamel​.

Fluoride Treatments

Dentists can apply fluoride varnish to the sensitive areas of the teeth to strengthen the enamel and reduce pain. Additionally, prescription fluoride treatments for home use are also available. Fluoride helps to remineralize the enamel, making it more resistant to acid attacks and sensitivity.

This treatment not only provides immediate relief but also offers long-term benefits by creating a more robust barrier against future erosive damage. Patients who regularly use fluoride treatments often experience a significant decrease in sensitivity over time. Moreover, fluoride can help prevent cavities and further decay, contributing to overall dental health.

Dental Bonding

Applying bonding resin to exposed root surfaces can protect the tooth and reduce sensitivity. This procedure might require a local anesthetic and involves covering the exposed areas with a protective material that reduces exposure to stimuli​​.

Gum Grafting

For cases where gum recession has exposed tooth roots, a surgical gum graft can cover the exposed areas and protect the roots from sensitivity. This involves taking tissue from another part of the mouth and grafting it onto the receded area, providing coverage and reducing sensitivity​.

How to Reduce Tooth Sensitivity

Avoid Acidic Foods and Drinks: Limiting the intake of highly acidic foods and drinks, such as citrus fruits, wine, and soda, can prevent further enamel erosion. Drinking through a straw and rinsing the mouth with water after consuming acidic substances can also help to mitigate their effects​.

Use a Soft-Bristled Toothbrush: Switching to a soft-bristled toothbrush and using gentle brushing techniques can prevent further enamel wear and gum irritation. Soft bristles are less likely to cause abrasion and are gentler on the gums​,.

Desensitizing Toothpaste: Regular use of desensitizing toothpaste can help reduce tooth sensitivity over time. These toothpastes contain ingredients that help to block pain signals and strengthen the enamel​.

Seeking Professional Dental Advice

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, seeking professional dental advice promptly is crucial. A dentist can conduct a thorough evaluation to identify the underlying cause of your sensitivity and recommend appropriate treatment options. Additionally, they can provide personalized guidance on oral hygiene practices, dietary modifications, and lifestyle changes to alleviate discomfort and protect your dental health in the long term​​.


Q: Why is my tooth sensitive all of a sudden?

Sudden tooth sensitivity can occur for several reasons. One common cause is enamel erosion, which exposes the underlying dentin and nerve endings to external stimuli like hot, cold, sweet, or acidic substances. This erosion can be due to consuming acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits and sodas, or due to conditions like acid reflux (GERD) that introduce stomach acids into the mouth​​.

Another cause could be gum recession, where the gums pull back and expose the tooth roots, which are not protected by enamel and are more sensitive to temperature changes​​.

Other potential causes include tooth decay or cavities, which allow stimuli to reach the inner layers of the tooth and cause pain​. Bruxism, or teeth grinding, can also lead to sudden sensitivity by wearing down the enamel and exposing the dentin​​.

Additionally, recent dental procedures like fillings, cleanings, or whitening treatments can temporarily increase sensitivity as the teeth adjust to the changes​. In some cases, a cracked tooth or a new crack forming can also lead to sudden sensitivity as the crack allows stimuli to reach the nerve endings within the tooth​​.

Q: How do you fix a sensitive tooth?

Fixing a sensitive tooth often involves addressing the underlying cause and taking steps to protect the tooth from further irritation. One of the most common treatments is using desensitizing toothpaste, which can help block pain signals from the tooth surface to the nerve after regular use​​.

Fluoride treatments are another effective option, as they can help strengthen the enamel and reduce sensitivity. Dentists may apply fluoride varnish to the sensitive areas or prescribe fluoride treatments for home use​​.

For cases where gum recession is the cause, a surgical gum graft can cover the exposed roots and protect them from sensitivity​​. Dental bonding is another procedure that can be used to cover exposed root surfaces and reduce sensitivity. This involves applying a bonding resin to the sensitive areas to shield them from external stimuli​​.

Lifestyle changes can also help manage and prevent tooth sensitivity. Avoiding acidic foods and beverages, using a soft-bristled toothbrush, and practicing gentle brushing techniques can protect the enamel and gums from further damage​. For those who grind their teeth, using a mouthguard at night can help prevent enamel wear and reduce sensitivity​​.

Q: Can tooth sensitivity go away?

Yes, tooth sensitivity can go away, especially if the underlying cause is identified and treated effectively. For instance, sensitivity resulting from recent dental procedures, such as fillings or cleanings, often resolves on its own within a few weeks as the teeth adjust​​. Using desensitizing toothpaste regularly can help alleviate symptoms over time by blocking pain signals from reaching the nerves​​.

For more persistent cases of sensitivity, professional treatments such as fluoride applications, dental bonding, or gum grafts can provide more permanent relief by protecting the exposed areas of the teeth and reducing sensitivity to external stimuli​. Maintaining good oral hygiene, avoiding acidic foods and beverages, and addressing habits like teeth grinding can also help prevent the recurrence of tooth sensitivity​.

Q: How do I make my tooth stop hurting?

To make a sensitive tooth stop hurting, start by using a desensitizing toothpaste, which can help block the pain signals from the tooth to the nerve. These toothpastes often contain compounds like potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride, which help to reduce sensitivity over time with regular use. Applying fluoride treatments, either through over-the-counter rinses or professional applications by a dentist, can also help strengthen the enamel and reduce pain​.

Avoiding triggers such as hot, cold, sweet, or acidic foods and beverages can help minimize pain. Drinking through a straw and rinsing your mouth with water after consuming acidic substances can also help reduce sensitivity​. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and practicing gentle brushing techniques can prevent further enamel erosion and gum irritation, which can exacerbate sensitivity​.

If the pain persists, it is essential to consult with a dentist to identify and address the underlying cause. Treatments such as dental bonding, gum grafting, or applying a protective varnish to the sensitive areas can provide more targeted relief​. For those who grind their teeth, using a mouthguard can help prevent further damage to the enamel and reduce sensitivity​.

Take Action for Your Dental Health

Are you struggling with tooth sensitivity and longing for a pain-free smile? It’s time to take action and seek professional oral care services from the seasoned professionals at Miners Ravine Dental Group in Roseville, CA. Our expert dentists are dedicated to identifying the root causes of your tooth sensitivity and providing effective treatments.

Don’t let tooth sensitivity disrupt your daily life any longer. Schedule a dental evaluation with our experienced team today and take the first step towards a healthier, happier smile.

Contact us in Roseville, CA, now to book your appointment and discover personalized care that will help you enjoy all your favorite foods and beverages without discomfort.

Visit our website or call us to make an appointment and start your journey to better dental health!