causes of tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is all too common for many adults. Often patients ask, “What are the main causes of tooth sensitivity?”

We hope this guide will open your eyes to some of the most common causes. Please keep in mind that it isn’t a substitute for seeing a dentist. Some of these causes are serious and require immediate treatment, while others are a warning sign that it is time to improve your dental hygiene habits.

In general, the leading causes of tooth sensitivity are some variation of worn tooth enamel or exposed nerves within the teeth.

Twelve Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

This list isn’t exhaustive, and these causes are not ranked in any particular order.

1. Frequently Eating Acidic Foods and Beverages

Over time, acids from food can break down tooth enamel and leave the tooth’s roots exposed, causing sensitivity and discomfort. Some examples of acidic foods include red wine, coffee, soda pop, citrus fruit like lemons, pickles, pineapple, and tomato sauce.

Try limiting acidic foods and drinks to specific meal times around 20 – 30 minutes before you brush your teeth. Also, consider sipping still water while consuming these foods and afterward.

2. Gum Disease

Swollen or receding gums increase tooth sensitivity. Be sure to floss daily in addition to brushing your teeth consistently. Also, keep up with your recommended schedule of dental examinations and cleanings as this helps maintain dental health.

3. Tooth Whitening Toothpaste and DIY Home Whitening Treatments

Everyone wants a radiant smile. Many people reach for a whitening toothpaste that is too harsh or aggressive. Or sometimes they just overuse it.

Also, home whitening kits and DIY natural treatments like charcoal brushing often increase tooth sensitivity and sometimes even break down tooth enamel. Talk with your dentist about your desire to whiten your teeth. Often professionally supervised whitening proves less costly than DIY methods since it is managed in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary damage.

4. Grinding Your Teeth, Especially at Night

People who grind their teeth when stressed or even at night while they sleep also tend to have sensitive teeth. The grinding action damages tooth enamel. If you grind your teeth, your dentist may recommend that you wear a mouthguard while you sleep to protect your teeth.

5. Cracked or Damaged Tooth

The pain from a cracked tooth tends to be more severe than “typical tooth sensitivity.” If you have severe pain when biting, this could mean that you have a significant crack that may warrant a root canal. It is important that if you crack a tooth, contact your dentist right away.

6. Overuse of Mouthwash

Sometimes mouthwashes containing alcohol harm the teeth over time and cause sensitivity. Don’t overuse. Sometimes your dental professional might recommend an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash or even just rinsing with saltwater. If you use mouthwash, discuss it with your dentist to learn more about best practices, the most appropriate rinses, and acceptable frequency.

7. Brushing Too Vigorously

While brushing is crucial, you also want to treat your teeth gently. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush gently. Harsh brushing can wear away at tooth enamel. We recommend trying an electric toothbrush. This type of toothbrush will be gentle on the gums while still getting the job done. Our favorite is the Sonicare version (Pro Tip: check Costco for the best deals!).

8. Damaged Or Fractured Tooth Fillings

Any damage to fillings may leave the tooth’s inner nerves exposed and sensitive. This is usually resolved with a trip to your dentist to have the damage repaired. In some cases, there may be new decay, and the dentist may need to recommend other treatments or even refer you to an endodontist. As you can imagine, if there are gaps between the filling and the tooth, cold liquids or even food can get in between and cause temperature sensitivity and tooth decay over time. 

9. Tooth Decay

The decay causes cavities, and this often results in pain or sensitivity. Your regularly scheduled dental visits should help keep decay under control, especially if you also follow home hygiene treatments. However, treatment (usually a filling) usually resolves this pain.

10. Plaque Build-up

Over time, plaque may build up and damage the tooth enamel. The best way to prevent this is by consistently brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily. Dental cleanings also remove any stubborn plaque that brushing can’t remove.

11. Sinus Infection

Sometimes people are surprised to learn that a sinus infection can cause the sensation of sensitive teeth. Most often, the discomfort occurs when chewing. Perhaps it isn’t as surprising when you consider the location of your sinuses. Inflamed sinuses fill and increase pressure on the face and along the cheekbones. The pressure sometimes compresses nerve endings in the teeth, especially along the upper row. If your dentist doesn’t see an oral health cause for your tooth sensitivity, they may recommend you also see your primary care doctor for an examination.

12. Recent Dental Procedure

If your teeth feel sensitive after a procedure, this is likely part of the healing process. For example, after a filling or crown, it is common to feel sensitivity for a few days. Be sure to follow any post-procedure care instructions your dental professional recommends. Also, let your dentist know if this sensitivity persists or worsens.

What to Do if You Experience These Symptoms

For mild tooth sensitivity, talk with your dentist about it. They may recognize the cause or may need to learn more about your lifestyle. The sensitivity might be a warning sign of damage to the teeth, gums, or enamel, so do take it seriously even if the symptoms are mild.

For more intense or painful sensitivity, schedule a dental appointment right away. This can be a sign of infection, damage to a filling, or trauma to the tooth. The sooner your dentist can identify the cause, the sooner you can receive treatment.

Next Steps

We hope this article covering some of the common causes of tooth sensitivity was helpful. Sometimes sensitivity is a sign of tooth damage that may require endodontic care like a root canal. Please be assured that this is a highly successful treatment that relieves the patient of pain while allowing them to keep their natural teeth.If you live in the Charlotte area and need a root canal treatment, ask your dentist for a referral to Ballantyne Endodontics. We use cutting edge techniques to restore health and wellbeing to your teeth.