Ever gasped in pain after taking a sip of a delicious hot beverage? Have you ever had to stop eating a bowl of ice cream because your teeth just couldn’t handle the cold? While these types of pain can be the sign of a cavity, other times it could be a sign that you’re suffering from sensitive teeth.

Tooth sensitivity by definition is exactly how it sounds – a painful condition that occurs when the inner layer of the tooth (dentin) becomes exposed.

Dentin hypersensitivity is the official name of tooth sensitivity and it can affect one, multiple teeth or all the teeth depending on the patient. This type of oral issue can be both a temporary or chronic problem, but the good news is that it’s easy to treat and can often be solved with simple adjustments to your oral hygiene routine.

Symptoms of Sensitive Teeth

You’re likely to know if you’re suffering from sensitive teeth as you’ll experience pain or discomfort when your teeth are exposed to various stimuli. The most common triggers in patients are hot and cold foods or beverages, cold air, sweet or acidic foods, brushing and flossing, and alcohol-based mouth rinses.

The sensitivity may come and go over time with no particular pattern that you can identify. It’s also important to note that the symptoms may be mild at times and intense at others. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed, even infrequently, we suggest that you mention it at your next scheduled oral checkup so that your dentist can look for any additional underlying oral issues.

Causes of Sensitive Teeth

As we mentioned above, the sensitivity you experience is the result of the lower layer of the tooth becoming exposed. This can happen because the tooth enamel, which protects the dentin becomes thin. A thinning of the enamel can be caused by grinding your teeth at night, using a toothbrush that’s too hard, brushing your teeth and gums to aggressively, or repeated exposure to acidic foods and beverages.

Although it’s possible to wear down the tooth enamel and cause sensitivity, there are other conditions that can lead to this as well. Gum recession is a common problem and one that might be visible only to your dentist. Similarly, broken or chipped teeth, worn down fillings and crowns, and overall tooth decay can all lead to dentin exposure and result in sensitivity. In instances such as these it’s not uncommon for patients to notice the sensitivity on only one tooth or in one area of the mouth.

Identification and Treatment

If you begin to experience dental sensitivity or notice that yours is becoming worse over time, bring it up at your next dental checkup or schedule a special appointment to see your dentist. They can look with well-trained eyes at the overall health of your teeth, checking for potential underlying problems like cavities, recessed gums, or loose fillings.

For those patients who suffer from mild tooth sensitivity, your dentist may recommend some more standard, over the counter treatment options such as a toothpaste for sensitive teeth, a toothbrush with softer bristles, and adjusting your technique to remove unnecessary pressure when brushing.

More serious cases or those with underlying medical conditions that are leading to tooth sensitivity will need to be addressed on a case by case basis with more specific treatment options provided by your dentist.