Sensitive teeth


Tooth sensitivity can range from mild aches to pain that persists for several hours. Many people experience sensitive teeth, though it's most common in people between the ages of 20 and 40. The sensitivity can come and go at any time and can be triggered by a number of causes. 

What are the causes of tooth sensitivity?   

The visible part of the tooth has a layer of enamel that protects the dentine underneath. When the dentine is exposed, the tooth becomes sensitive. This usually occurs where the tooth and gum meet, as the enamel there is much thinner. Causes of tooth sensitivity include: 

  • A filling or a cracked tooth
  • Brushing too hard – this can result in the enamel being worn down
  • Overexposure to acid (present in acidic food and drinks) causing the enamel to be worn away
  • Tooth grinding, which can make the enamel thinner 
  • Receding gums, which expose the roots of the teeth
  • Gum disease – this is a build-up of plaque or calculus that makes the gum recede

To help avoid tooth sensitivity, you can reduce or eliminate sugary foods and drinks in your diet and make sure you are cleaning your teeth thoroughly. It’s best to use a brush with soft or medium bristles twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride and floss at least once a day. If tooth sensitivity persists for more than a few weeks without improvement, visit your dentist for advice. 

The pain from tooth sensitivity is most often triggered by eating or drinking something cold, or by cold air. It can also occur when eating or drinking something hot, or when consuming sweet or acidic food and drinks.

How is tooth sensitivity treated?

Using a special fluoride toothpaste twice a day when brushing can help to reduce sensitivity. There are several brands of toothpaste designed to help with sensitive teeth. You can also rub it into the sensitive areas. These toothpastes can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to start working. If you are unsure, ask your dentist or pharmacist which toothpaste might be more suitable for you. 

If your tooth sensitivity does not improve with a toothpaste alone, your dentist may offer further treatment options to help relieve your symptoms, depending on what is causing them.

Fluoride gels, rinses or varnishes can be applied to sensitive teeth and are usually painted onto the teeth one or two weeks apart. If this doesn’t help, your dentist may need to fill around the tooth where the tooth and gum meet to cover exposed dentine. 

How can tooth sensitivity be prevented? 

You can help to prevent sensitive teeth in a number of ways, including:

  • Getting a new toothbrush at least once every three months 
  • Not brushing your teeth immediately after eating or drinking
  • Having sugary or acidic food and drinks less frequently 
  • Visiting your dentist regularly 

Next steps 

  • If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, consider using a specialist fluoride toothpaste twice a day
  • Ask your dentist or pharmacist for advice about which toothpaste is most suitable for you
  • If the sensitivity doesn’t go away in a few weeks, visit your dentist for treatment