Tooth Sensitivity in Kids: Causes and Treatments

Child with tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity can be uncomfortable and affect kids in different ways. Having sensitive teeth could mean giving up certain foods, mood changes, and irritability in children. By understanding what causes tooth sensitivity and how to both prevent and treat it, you can help your child avoid these symptoms.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity in Kids

Many of the causes of tooth sensitivity in children can be traced back to poor oral hygiene. This is why it’s crucial to help your child adopt healthy dental habits as young as possible. Here are some causes of tooth sensitivity in kids:

Poor Brushing Habits

By not properly brushing, children may find that their teeth and gums are more sensitive than they should be. This often has to do with the fact that they are not removing food particles from the teeth. Hard or crunchy foods, in particular, can become lodged between your child’s teeth and can only be removed with brushing and flossing. Otherwise, the food will irritate the gums, cause bad breath and tooth decay, or even lead to infection.

Cavities and Decay

Cavities are small areas of decay that typically start at the enamel’s surface and then make their way into the tooth. The larger the cavity becomes, the more likely it will have an impact on the tooth’s pulp. The pulp is what houses the nerves and blood supply that are vital to keeping teeth healthy and strong. Once the decay has been able to reach this pulp, either a root canal or a pulpotomy is necessary.

When a child has a cavity that has reached this point, it’s almost always painful. However, even before the decay can reach the pulp, the tooth may become sensitive. The dental cavity weakens the structure of the tooth and can create sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures.

Enamel Erosion

Drinking too much acidic fruit juices and eating a lot of sugar-laden candy are common foods that will erode the enamel of children’s teeth. Once this happens, the teeth may become more sensitive to outside stimuli, like drinking a cold glass of water or eating ice cream.

As parents, it’s crucial to watch the volume of acidic foods and drinks your children are consuming and try to limit them if possible. One of the worst culprits for enamel erosion is cola products. Most cola products contain either phosphoric acid or citric acid, both of which contribute to enamel erosion. You should also follow your dentist’s recommendations when it comes to your child’s dental cleaning habits and fluoride treatments in the office.

Sinus Infections

Believe it or not, a simple sinus infection can cause your child’s teeth to feel sensitive and tender. This is due to the sinuses pressing down on the upper teeth, affecting both the nerves and causing the mouth to feel tender and sore. Treating sinus infections quickly is the best way for your child to avoid sensitivity due to this particular problem.

Loose or Cracked Fillings

Tooth fillings are designed to replace areas of decay in one or more teeth. Although fillings made of composite resin are quite durable, they don’t always last forever. As the filling begins to wear, it may crack or become loose. It’s also common for a filling to break or fall out completely when a child is eating something crunchy, chewy, or gummy.

When a filling breaks, it can cause sensitivity either when your child drinks something hot or cold or bites down into a hard piece of food. Cracked or loose fillings can also be painful if the tooth’s nerve becomes exposed, and your child may avoid biting down on the side where it hurts.

Development of Permanent Teeth

As the baby teeth fall out and the permanent teeth come in, you’ll find that your child experiences increased sensitivity in the mouth. This is simply due to the new teeth displacing the baby teeth and having to adjust in the mouth. As the permanent tooth pushes the baby tooth out of the gums, your child will often favor the other side of the mouth until the baby tooth has completely separated. If your child complains of extreme discomfort, it could be something other than permanent teeth growing in, and you should consult your dentist right away.

Treatments Available for Sensitive Teeth

Child at dentist getting treatment

Unfortunately, certain causes of tooth sensitivity cannot be prevented, but they can be treated to improve your child’s quality of life.

Improve Your Child’s Oral Hygiene

When it comes to preventing and treating sensitive teeth, it’s all about taking a proactive approach to your child’s dental health. Encourage your children to brush their teeth regularly and make it part of their daily routine. It’s also a good idea to monitor your children while they brush to make sure they are using the best techniques.

Use Products Designed for Sensitive Teeth

There is a multitude of high-quality toothpaste and toothbrushes made specifically for sensitive teeth available on the market. Toothpaste for sensitivity works by desensitizing the nerve within the tooth, so sensations from the tooth’s surface do not reach the nerve. You should also take care when choosing a toothbrush for your child’s sensitive teeth and ask your dentist for recommendations.

Fluoride Treatments

Fluoride is another option, and these treatments involve applying a clear liquid varnish to the teeth in the dentist’s office. Fluoride helps to strengthen and protect teeth, so you’ll find that your child has fewer issues with sensitivity than before. If your child has not seen a dentist for a while or has not gotten a fluoride treatment before, it’s time to be your child’s advocate and make an appointment.

Teeth sensitivity can be an uncomfortable issue for children. It can also be a warning sign to parents that other dental problems are present. By seeking treatments quickly and helping your kids stick to a healthy dental routine, you’ll find that they are happier and more able to enjoy the foods and drinks that they love. If you have additional questions about your child’s oral health, be sure to talk to their dentist or hygienist for further suggestions.

About the Author

Dr. Scott Futch

Dr. Scott F. Futch, DDS

Dr. Scott Futch has been a clinical director for Absolute Dental since April 2017. Dr. Futch graduated from University of Michigan School of Dentistry and completed his training at the Dawson Academy; a postgraduate multi-disciplinary education clinical research facility dedicated to the advancement of dentistry. Dr. Futch has had over 25 years of experience as a skilled clinician, mentor and coach.

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