Tooth Sensitivity

What is tooth sensitivity?
Our teeth are mainly made up of dentine which has in it’s centre the pulp (contains nerve and blood vessel supply to the tooth). Nerve endings inside the pulp penetrate up into the dentine and make it feel “live” to outside stimuli such as acids, sugars, bacteria and to touch.

The enamel which covers the crown of the tooth is like an impermeable rock, which protects the biting part of the tooth from wearing down and also covers up what would be sensitive dentine.


When any part of this enamel layer is lost due to wear, chemical attack or tooth decay, the exposed dentine will become sensitive and so a person can experience a short sharp pain on:

  • Hot or cold food and drinks
  • Biting
  • Brushing or touching along the gum line of teeth
  • Sometimes even just breathing in cold air.

If the pain on any of these stimuli lingers on for more than a few seconds, there may be deep tooth decay close to or into the nerve and a dental appointment may be required.

Causes of sensitive teeth

  1. Until a dentist mentions it, most people brush their teeth backwards and forwards, often with a hard or medium toothbrush. Slowly over time, this tears the gum away and can wear a groove along the gumline of the tooth, exposing the yellow dentine and creating sensitivity. Brushing up and down with a soft toothbrush in a massaging rather than a scrubbing action will stop this tooth and gum damage continuing and with the use of de-sensitising toothpaste may help one avoid a dental appointment.
  2. Gum disease, which results in gums and bone slowly coming away from around the teeth, can also cause exposed dentine and result in sensitivity (see our segment on gum disease). This exposed dentine can often be settled with de-sensitising toothpastes such as Sensodyne or Colgate Sensitive Pro. If this does not help we can paint a light cured sealant called Shield Force which will give a more long term solution.
  3. Tooth grinding (bruxism) at night when asleep can cause teeth to wear down through the enamel and into the dentine. If severe, an acrylic night guard (occusal splint) can be made to stop the teeth from wearing any further.

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