Katie Moynihan RDH
Sensitive teeth is one of the most common concerns among dental patients. Tooth sensitivity occurs due to enamel loss or gum recession which exposes the underlying dentin structure of the tooth. The dentin layer of your tooth is found underneath the enamel and contains several tiny tubes which run from the nerve to the outside of the tooth. When exposed, these tubes are highly sensitive to temperature changes, sweets, or mechanical forces. Not to mention very painful!
Tooth sensitivity can be caused by several factors. Aggressive brushing can wear away your enamel at the gumline leading to gum recession and exposed tooth root. Another cause of sensitivity can be from continuous grinding of the teeth to the point that the enamel is completely worn down to the dentin layer. Cracked teeth or worn fillings can create passageways to the nerve of the tooth. Periodontal disease, or severe gum disease, can contribute to sensitivity because the gums around the teeth break down and lead to gum loss and bone loss.
There are several ways to help reduce tooth sensitivity either at home or at the dental office. The type of treatment will depend of what is causing the sensitivity.
At home treatments include:
- using a soft or extra-soft toothbrush while brushing gently in order to avoid toothbrush abrasion at the gumline (take a good look at your toothbrush…if the bristles are pointing in multiple directions, you’re brushing too hard!)
- using a toothpaste that contains potassium nitrate, which penetrates the exposed dentin and soothes the nerve endings
- using a fluoride toothpaste to help strengthen the tooth and exposed dentin
- using MI Paste (available at your dental office) to block dentin tubule openings
- limit acidic foods and drinks because they can remove small amounts of enamel over time
In office treatments include:
- application of a fluoride varnish – helps seal the tubules and rebuild exposed dentin
- application of a fluoride foam – provides a high dose of fluoride to help strengthen teeth
- bonding agents can be placed at the gumline if necessary to seal exposed dentin and reduce sensitivity
- restorative treatment if needed to correct the tooth that is causing the sensitivity
- periodontal treatment if needed to keep gums healthy around the teeth
A mix of potassium nitrate and fluoride is your best solution for desensitization. Some products which include these active ingredients include Sensodyne, Pronamel, Colgate Sensitive Pro Relief, and Colgate Prevident 5000 Sensitive. These products must be used on a regular basis for at least 30 days before any therapeutic benefit will take place. Whitening and tartar control toothpastes contain abrasive ingredients that can damage tooth enamel and may be too harsh for those with sensitive teeth. The application of a fluoride varnish is always available in-office at your request. If you suffer from tooth sensitivity, feel free to ask us which desensitizing agents will work best for you!
Want to learn more? Visit us at