What is tooth sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is when you feel a momentary pain as your teeth come into contact with certain objects. Typically, tooth sensitivity is stimulated by cold, hot or sweets. For instance, eating an ice cream or chewing candies may trigger your tooth sensitivity. Having sensitive teeth is not fun! Tooth sensitivity can cause you to avoid eating certain food items. It also makes it less enjoyable to eat or drink in general. Lets examine some most types of tooth sensitivity to better understand this phenomenon:

Localized tooth sensitivity

Localized tooth sensitivity is when you experience sensitivity on a single tooth. Dental cavities and cracked teeth are the most common causes of localized tooth sensitivity. You should never ignore a sensitive tooth. If left untreated, it’s likely that your sensitive tooth will turn into a full blown toothache before you know it! This sensitivity is your bodies way of telling you to see the dentist before your tooth becomes painful and infected.

Luckily, localized tooth sensitivity resulting from cavities and cracks are easily fixed with a dental filling or crown. As the cavity or crack deepens within the tooth, it eventually reaches your tooth nerve. This causes dental infection which leads to severe toothache. Unfortunately, your tooth now requires a root canal treatment or it must be removed! As you can see, the sooner you address your sensitive tooth, the better the outcome.

There are other causes of localized tooth sensitivity aside from dental cavities and cracked teeth. For example, you may experience tooth sensitivity after receiving a new dental filling or crown. These types of sensitivities are typically temporary in nature and go away within a few weeks. However, if the sensitivity persists or worsens, then you must have it checked out by your dentist. It could be that your filling or crown needs to be adjusted or redone. Delaying treatment could cause the tooth to become irreversibly damaged, leading to a root canal infection or possibly even tooth loss!

Generalized tooth sensitivity


Generalized tooth sensitivity is when multiple teeth start to feel sensitive. It’s possible that generalized tooth sensitivity is caused by multiple dental cavities or cracked teeth. However, the most common cause of generalized tooth sensitivity is receding gums. Receding gums refers to the loss of supporting gum tissue which protect your tooth roots. Tooth roots start to become exposed once your gums recede. As a result, you will experience sensitivity on not just one, but several teeth, sometimes even all of your teeth!

Gum recession is typically the result of brushing your teeth too hard. Hard to imagine, but brushing too forcefully can actually damage your gums! The best solution is to learn to brush your teeth correctly. Stop pressing so hard on your gums and instead learn to apply gentle, circular motions. Be sure to only use a soft toothbrush and avoid hard brushes. Also, be sure to replace your old toothbrush periodically. You want to avoid damaging your gums using worn out and abrasive bristles.

Of course, there are many other causes of generalized tooth sensitivity aside from gum recession. For instance, losing you tooth enamel layer can also lead to generalized tooth sensitivity. Enamel is the outermost tooth layer which protects your teeth against cavities. Your teeth become sensitive as their enamel layer becomes too thin. So what causes the loss of your tooth enamel? It turns out, there are a few different causes for enamel loss, such as:

  • Consuming too much acidic foods and drinks, such as lemon juice
  • Carbonated sodas
  • Persistent vomiting or acid exposure of your teeth as seen in Bulimia Nervosa orGERD
  • Heavy tooth grinding
  • Constantly clenching your teeth
  • Having multiple porcelain teeth which oppose natural teeth
  • Aggressive tooth brushing habit
  • Generally weak tooth structure

The first step to addressing generalized tooth sensitivity is to figure out what causes the sensitivity. Then you must figure out how to reduce damage to your tooth enamel. For instance, if your diet is causing enamel loss then you need to modify your eating habits. If your stomach acid is responsible then you need to treat underlying medical conditions, drink lots of water and brush more frequently. Clenchers and tooth grinders need to relax and start wearing a custom night guard. Finally, if your damaging your teeth due to aggressive brushing then you need to modify your brushing habits. Consider switching to an electric toothbrush if needed.

Temporary tooth sensitivity

Occasionally, your tooth sensitivity may be temporary in nature. These types of sensitivity usually go away within a few days, weeks or months. Here are some examples of different causes of temporary tooth sensitivity:

  • A common cause of temporary tooth sensitivity is when you receive a new dental filling or crown. These types of sensitivity decrease over time and go away within a few weeks or months.
  • You may experience temporary tooth sensitivity after whitening your teeth. The vast majority of these sensitivities go away within a couple of days or weeks. However, be sure not to avoid using a very high concentration of bleaching gel in an unsupervised setting. You actually could end up with permanent tooth sensitivity if the bleaching gel is not applied properly. This is exactly why you should never use a high concentrations of bleaching gel without dentist supervision.
  • Temporary tooth sensitivity is also caused by plaque buildup on your teeth. Luckily, a professional dental cleaning is all that’s need to resolve this type of tooth sensitivity. However, if left untreated, plaque and tartar lead to periodontitis, infection and other serious dental conditions. So be sure to maintain regular dental cleanings if you haven’t had one in a while!

How to resolve tooth sensitivity?

The first step to resolving tooth sensitivity is to figure out the source of your tooth sensitivity. Note your symptoms so that you can discuss them with your dentist:

  • Is your tooth sensitivity localized or generalized? If localized, on which tooth do you feel it most? If generalized, is it in all four corners of your mouth or only a few?
  • How long does the tooth sensitivity last for? Seconds, minutes, hours, etc.
  • What triggers your tooth sensitivity? Hot, cold, sweets, biting, etc.
  • Does your sensitivity worsen at a certain time of day? Mornings, nights, all day, etc.

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, be sure to discuss it with to your doctor. Mention your symptoms and discuss in as much details as possible. Your dentist will help you figure out what the cause of your tooth sensitivity is and come up with an appropriate solution. Luckily, most causes of tooth sensitivity can be resolved in their earlier stages before they become full blown pain and infection! For minor cases, your dentist may recommend a Fluoride toothpaste, gel or rinse to help strengthen your teeth. They may also recommend wearing a custom night guard or Fluoride trays for more serious cases. The most advanced cases require crowns, root canal treatment and other invasive dental procedures. The sooner you seek treatment for generalized tooth sensitivity, the simpler the outcome.

If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity in San Clemente, Orange County, we can help! Call us at (949) 481-2540 or schedule a consultation online today. We will take X-rays, review your symptoms and try to determine the cause of your tooth sensitivity. Next, we will come up with a plan to contain your tooth sensitivity and prevent it from worsening. Don’t wait until your sensitive tooth becomes a full-blown toothache! Call us today and get that sensitive tooth under control before it’s too late.


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