Tooth Sensitivity | Causes and Treatments

tooth sensitivity

Normally, you shouldn’t have tooth sensitivity other than the pressures of biting and chewing. The outer layer of your teeth, called enamel, is the most resilient substance your body produces. It is designed to seal off and protect the inner parts of your teeth. Teeth roots, which aren’t covered by tooth enamel, are protected by your gums as they extend into the jawbone, where they rest inside sockets and are held in place by periodontal ligaments.

Tooth sensitivity occurs when your teeth’s protective structures are compromised, and can range from mild to severe depending on your exact situation. Identifying the cause of your toothache is essential to treating it, and you should visit our office immediately if your tooth hurts to prevent further damage and the need for extensive treatment.

The main cause of tooth sensitivity is from bruxism

Tooth sensitivity or cold sensitivity is usually from grinding your teeth at night. The repetitive rubbing and/or gnashing of teeth against one another will sensitize the nerves and make the teeth hurt. Simply drinking a glass of cool water can cause a reaction.


The best dental treatment for this is getting a specific type of night guard. A generic rubber or melted plastic tray will not work. They need to fashion it to fit a perfect bite.

Weak / Thin Tooth Enamel can lead to tooth sensitivity

Enamel is made entirely of minerals, mainly calcium and phosphate, supplied by your teeth. When you eat or drink, the sugar and carbohydrates in your food/beverage feed certain oral bacteria that convert the carbs into acid. The organic acid depletes your teeth of minerals, weakens tooth enamel, and over time, can expose the more sensitive dentin underneath it. As the main body of your tooth, dentin contains small tubules that feed sensory information to your tooth’s nerves and blood vessels. When it’s exposed to oral bacteria, food debris, extreme temperatures from ice cream or cold beverages, dentin can feel the disturbance and become sensitive.


Weak tooth enamel is the precursor to tooth decay—an internal tooth infection caused by invading bacteria—and the cavities that it causes. When detected early, enamel erosion can often be reversed with improved hygiene and possibly fluoride treatments.

Cold sensitivity from Gum Recession

Gum recession due to genetic predisposition, periodontal disease, or from orthodontics can expose more of the tooth root surface.  Roots are normally insulated by the gums.  When the roots are exposed from receded gums, the tooth sensitivity can be a real issue.

Tooth Decay

Weak tooth enamel can regain its strength when acid is eliminated and your teeth’s minerals are replenished. If the enamel erodes enough to develop holes, then bacteria can slip past it and infect the tooth’s exposed dentin. As tooth decay settles in, a small hole, or cavity, will develop, exacerbating your tooth ache or sensitivity and warning you of impending danger. The longer a cavity is left untreated, the further it can penetrate your tooth, and eventually, the infection can reach the sensitive nerves and blood vessels at the center of your tooth (called the pulp).


Treating a cavity depends on how severe it is by the time you seek treatment. Mild cavities that are caught at the dentin can often be treated by removing the infected structure, cleaning the cavity, and reinforcing the tooth a tooth-colored dental filling. Severe cases of tooth decay that involve infected pulp tissues may require a root canal treatment to stop the spread of infection and prevent the loss of your tooth.

Dental Damage

Tooth decay slowly destroys your tooth’s defenses to reach its most vulnerable tissues. A traumatic injury, such as a crack, fracture, or break from bad oral habits can expose the inside of the tooth. It will immediately expose your tooth’s pulp to bacteria, food debris, hot and cold temperatures, and possible infection. Even if the tooth doesn’t hurt right away, visit us as soon as possible if it chips or cracks.


In most cases, a crack or fracture can be treated with a custom made dental crown to protect it from the pressures of biting and chewing. Occasionally, a root canal is needed if the tooth becomes infected. Your porcelain crown will be designed to mimic the size, shape, and color of your tooth, as well as the way your healthy tooth enamel reflects light. Aside from restoring your tooth, a custom dental crown can also improve the tooth’s appearance and maintain your smile’s beauty.

Treating Tooth Sensitivity

If gum disease, the early stage of which can be reversed, is causing tooth pain, a dentist can treat the problem. If a cavity is causing pain, the dentist can fill the cavity. Dentin exposure can be treated with a variety of in-office and at-home remedies.

In Office

  • Bonding agent, which is used to attach restorations to teeth or fill cavities, can be used to seal the dentin. The bonding sealants can seal the dentinal tubules that cause the pain.
  • Fluoride varnish can strengthen the enamel and reduce dentine hypersensitivity.
  • Fluoride gel or foam in mouth trays can treat the teeth with a high concentration of fluoride for three to five minutes, strengthening the sensitive area.

At Home Oral Hygiene Suggestions

  • Use a desensitizing toothpaste specifically designed for patients with sensitive teeth.
  • Brush your teeth properly directing the bristles towards your gum line, and be careful not to brush too hard.
  • Use a soft bristled toothbrush. Stiffer bristles can aggravate sensitive teeth and cause further gum tissue recession.
  • Use a fluoride rinse provided by your dentist.

Learn more about how to prevent tooth sensitivity

Dr. Fondriest combines his experience with modern technology and caring and knowledgeable staff, and we proudly serve patients from all surrounding communities. To schedule your consultation, call our office today at (847) 234-0517.