Definition of sensitive teeth
Tooth sensitivity is the painful sensation in your teeth that can happen after consuming hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods and drinks.
Tooth sensitivity can occur when dentine, the layer of the tooth underneath the enamel, becomes exposed. This can happen by brushing your teeth or gums too hard or by using a hard-bristled toothbrush that wears away the protective enamel covering your teeth. Enamel erosion can also occur as a result of eating acidic foods.
Gum recession and the loss of the protective surface layer of the tooth root (called the cementum) can also cause tooth sensitivity. When dentine is exposed to an external stimulus, such as heat or cold, touch, sweet or acidic foods and drinks, you may feel discomfort and sometimes a sharp pain in the tooth or teeth.
Other factors that may cause tooth pain
Experiencing pain and discomfort in your teeth may not always mean you have tooth sensitivity. There are several other conditions that can cause tooth pain including:
- A cracked or chipped tooth
- Grinding or clenching teeth
- Leakage around restorations
- External tooth whitening
If you are not sure what may be causing you tooth pain, consult a dentist.
What is happening when you experience tooth sensitivity
There are microscopic tubular structures in the dentine of your tooth that radiate outward from the pulp (in the centre) of the tooth which provides the tooth with blood and nutrients, to the external surface of the dentine. These tubules connect the external world to the nerve fibres within the pulp. When dentine tubules are exposed to hot, cold, sweet or acidic foods or drinks, a change in dentinal fluid flow within the tubules is transmitted to the nerve fibres causing the brain to perceive this sensation as pain.
Talk to your dentist if you think you have tooth sensitivity. He or she can provide the correct diagnosis and recommend treatment options. It might be as simple as changing your toothpaste.
This page/article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment. Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.