Why are teeth sensitive?

Dentist Office in Raytown and Pleasant Hill, Missouri

Tooth Sensitivity

          Do you find it difficult to sip a hot or very cold beverage or eat ice cream without experiencing significant pain? Why is it that certain teeth are most sensitive than others periodically? Tooth sensitivity can be more than a nuisance, it can seriously affect quality of life causing difficulty in eating and normal oral hygiene habits.

            Excessive tooth wear is one of the numerous causes of tooth sensitivity. It is very important not to grind your teeth together, because bruxism (a teeth grinding habit) is one of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity. Frequently, worn teeth make brushing and flossing a rather uncomfortable chore.

           Troublesome tooth sensitivity may be prohibiting a person from being able to practice necessary healthy oral hygiene habits. By failing to devote the necessary attention to your teeth, the problems will only exacerbate. Resolving the discomfort associated with tooth sensitivity involves first determining the source of the problem. Several factors may cause or contribute to tooth sensitivity:

  • Excessively worn enamel
  • Fractured teeth
  • Worn filling(s)
  • Exposed tooth root surface
  • Gum disease and periodontal disease
  • Tooth decay (cavities)  

           In healthy teeth, there exists a protective layer of enamel to protect the surface of the tooth. Enamel contains no nerve tissue and thus cannot experience pain.  Unlike enamel, both dentin and cementum do contain nerve tissue and thus can transmit pain stimuli.  Dentin makes up the inner part of the crown of the tooth under the enamel, while cementum covers the surface of the root of the tooth.  The tooth crown is that portion of the tooth you use to chew, while the root of tooth is generally under your gum tissue.

Deterioration of enamel has numerous potential causes:

  • High sugar/highly acidic diet:
  • Prescription Medications
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia)
  • Natural factors (normal friction and wear)
  • Gastric reflux
  • Genetics
  • Parafuntional habits (clenching, grinding)
  • Tooth brush scrubbing or use of a hard bristle brush

Erosion or degradation of tooth enamel enables stimuli to reach into the nerve cells inside the tooth and cause significant pain. Usually, the only way to correct this is with over-the-counter NSAID pain medications, narcotics or actual in-office dental procedures.

Treatments for Sensitive teeth

  • Desensitizing products: Usually the first step in treating tooth sensitivity is the application of a desensitizing agent by your dentist, usually accompanied by the introduction of sensitivity toothpaste. Potassium nitrate, the active ingredient in sensitivity toothpaste, may take up to 8 weeks to be incorporated into your teeth and actually start reducing sensitivity.
  • Root canal: Endodontic therapy (root canal) is more towards the last ditch effort to deal with a sensitive tooth.  In a root canal, the nerve tissue of the tooth pulp is removed so that no further pain can be transmitted by the tooth.
  • Dental bonding: Bonding with composite can be used to cover a sensitive area of the tooth.
  • Fluoride gel: Application of an in-office fluoride product can strengthen tooth enamel and therefore sometimes reduce the transmission of pain impulses.
  • Surgical gum graft: Another rather aggressive procedure, involves transplanting gum tissue from one part of the mouth to another, or using an artificial graft material, to cover sensitive areas of the tooth.

Practicing good oral hygiene is your best bet to prevent sensitivity. :

  • Brush and floss in the morning and before bedtime.
  • Limit or avoid sugary and acidic beverages.
  • Visit your dentist every 6 months.


Dr. Robert Davis can help you will tooth sensitivity. Please call your Raytown dentist at 816-358-0800.