What Causes Sensitive Teeth and Gums?

It’s estimated that one in every eight adults1 experiences tooth sensitivity regularly. There are many reasons why teeth may become sensitive and sometimes increasingly painful. Sensitive teeth should not be ignored as they can be a sign of something more serious and can even prevent you from living a full and active life.

Woman with sensitive teeth at dentist

Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?

In some cases, tooth sensitivity2 isn’t necessarily problematic or require professional dental care. However, it is essential to talk to your dentist to understand the cause of the sensitivity and reduce the symptoms.

Here are some common reasons tooth sensitivity occurs:

1. Receding Gums

As your gums recede due to age or poor oral hygiene, the roots of the teeth are exposed, which are more sensitive than the crowns of the teeth. You may experience tooth sensitivity when eating or drinking hot or cold food items, or occasionally throughout the day.

The sensitivity from receding gum lines feels like a sharp, shooting pain often disappearing with the use of a sensitivity product or a gum graft to cover the exposed roots. Your dentist will be able to determine the best treatment for your unique situation.

2. Aggressive Tooth Brushing

Most adults should use a soft bristle brush to prevent damage from brushing too aggressively. However, even if you’re using a soft bristle brush, you may press too hard thinking you’ll remove more plaque from your teeth. Keep in mind that your gums are susceptible to damage, and applying too much pressure can cause receding gums and tooth sensitivity.

Choosing your toothbrush carefully and using gentler motions when brushing your teeth can help gums stay strong. You can also upgrade to a power toothbrush for thorough cleaning while protecting your gums and enamel.

woman brushing her teeth correctly

3. Acidic Food and Drinks

If acidic foods make up a large part of your diet, they can eventually erode enamel and cause tooth sensitivity. Once the enamel is worn down, the sensitive dentin is exposed, causing the sharp and shooting pains you might feel throughout the day.

To prevent further damage, limit your intake of acidic foods and drinks, including:

  • Vinegar
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Coffee
  • Wine
  • Pickled foods
  • Carbonated beverages

Wondering what foods are best for sensitive teeth and gums? Try:

  • Dairy Products – such as milk and cheese, which are high in protein and calcium
  • Fruits and Vegetables – such as carrots and apples, which are high in fiber and nutrients
  • Nuts – such as almonds, which are high in protein and calcium and naturally low in sugar

4. Tooth Decay

When you have a cavity, a small portion of decay slowly eats away at the tooth. While a cavity may be small to begin with, it can quickly become a major issue. Once the decay hits these sensitive dentin tubules, you may experience sensitivity and pain telling you there is a problem.

If a cavity is not taken care of promptly, it can eventually become severe enough to require a root canal. This is why it’s so vital to schedule routine visits to your dental office for regular cleanings and exams.

Are you struggling with sensitive teeth? Make an appointment today with one of our experienced dental professionals.

5. Broken or Chipped Teeth

When a tooth is chipped or broken, the dentin is exposed and is more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures and everyday wear and tear. In some cases, it’s easy to spot a broken or cracked tooth, especially if it is in the front of the mouth.

However, if you can’t put your finger on the sensitivity issue, you may have a chipped tooth that isn’t so obvious. Some cracks are so minimal that they are difficult to spot without proper lighting and tools.

6. Teeth Grinding

If you have a habit of grinding your teeth, this could cause enamel breakdown and exposure to dentin—leading to sensitivity issues that can make life miserable. If your tooth grinding is associated with stress, it is essential to minimize your anxiety levels and speak to a professional to find other outlets.

Also, special mouthguards can effectively stop or minimize teeth grinding if you tend to grind your teeth while sleeping at night.

woman in pain after grinding her teeth

7. Gastroesophageal Reflux (GERD)

GERD is a common disorder that results in stomach acid coming up through the esophagus and hitting the mouth. Other conditions that cause vomiting can also affect the sensitivity of the teeth.

For example, those who are bulimic may experience tooth sensitivity due to stomach acid wearing away enamel. It is crucial to receive treatment for the underlying cause of your GERD or vomiting to minimize tooth and gum sensitivity.

8. Sensitive Teeth After Whitening Treatments

While everyone wants a beautiful white smile, whitening with at-home whitening kits can lead to problems. When you whiten your teeth at home, there may be side effects when you apply powerful bleaching agents that can penetrate the enamel.

Using whitening products too often can eventually cause the breakdown of enamel and result in permanent sensitivity. Talk to you dentist about professional teeth whitening treatments if you have sensitive teeth.

9. Progressive Periodontal Disease

Poor oral hygiene habits most often cause periodontal disease. While it starts as gingivitis, it can quickly progress into gum disease. With gum disease, tooth roots become exposed and are prone to increased sensitivity.

The key to preventing periodontal disease is proper brushing and flossing habits, as well as visiting your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.

Stay on top of your dental health. Schedule a checkup today!

Why Are My Teeth Sensitive to Cold?

Teeth that are sensitive to cold can indicate a bigger problem. If you experience sensitivity to cold or heat3, such as when eating ice cream or hot coffee, it could mean your tooth enamel (protective outer layer) has worn down.

This reduction in enamel leaves nerve endings in the tooth more exposed to external impacts such as extreme temperatures.

woman with sensitivity to ice cream

How Can You Relieve Tooth and Gum Sensitivity?

If you suffer from tooth pain or sensitivity, routine dental cleanings are essential for removing built-up and hardened plaque. These exams will help you determine the cause of the sensitivity and address issues. You can also take steps to watch what you eat, use teeth sensitivity products, or start using an electric toothbrush for better oral hygiene.

How to Prevent Sensitive Teeth and Gums

The best way to prevent tooth sensitivity is to practice good oral hygiene habits. Your dentist may recommend you:

  1. Brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush and special toothpaste
  2. Floss daily to remove plaque and debris from between the teeth
  3. Use sensitive mouthwash twice a day to eliminate other bacteria

male flossing his teeth

It’s also vital that you make an appointment with your dentist twice a year for x-rays, a checkup, and teeth cleaning.

Ignoring your sensitivity issues may be a mistake if it turns out to be something more serious that requires treatment. If you are experiencing sensitive teeth, talk to your dentist about causes and what you can do to improve your oral health.

Sources:

1Storrs, Carina. 1 in 8 Adults May Have Sensitive Teeth. WebMD. Retrieved 12 January 2022.

2American Dental Association (ADA). Sensitive Teeth. Healthy Mouth. Retrieved 12 January 2022.

3Cirino, E. (10 June 2021). Causes of Tooth Sensitivity to Heat and Cold — and How to Treat It. Healthline. Retrieved 12 January 2022.

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About the Author

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Dr. Joan Landron

Currently serving the community at Absolute Dental since August 2008, Dr. Joan Landron graduated from Temple University School of Dentistry in 1997.

She further honed her skills with a general practice residency at Metropolitan Hospital and underwent specialized training at New York University’s Implant Program for General Practitioners. Specializing in services such as X-rays, examinations, cleanings, crowns, and more, Dr. Landron brings a comprehensive approach to general and cosmetic dentistry, including implants.

A proud member of the American Dental Association, Nevada Dental Association, and Southern Nevada Dental Association, she cherishes her free time by spending moments with family, reading, and maintaining her health through exercise. Dr. Landron takes immense pride in being a part of the Absolute Dental team and is dedicated to her patients at the Absolute Dental – Nellis in Las Vegas, ensuring they receive the best care possible.

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