Common Causes of

Tooth Sensitivity

If you are experiencing sharp tooth pain when eating certain types or temperatures of food, you shouldn’t “brush it off.” Tooth sensitivity can be a symptom of many different oral health conditions. Your dentist can help you find a solution so you no longer need to alter your eating habits. It is also important to address sensitivity sooner than later, as many of these issues can worsen over time and lead to more extensive dental work.

Common causes of tooth sensitivity are:

A woman putting in a night guard to prevent tooth sensitivity due to bruxism


Bruxism is when you unconsciously clench or grind your teeth. This can occur either while you are asleep or during the day. Clenching and grinding can be accelerated by stress and is a common cause for tooth-aches and jaw disorders. The added pressure to your teeth when clenching can cause individual or multiple teeth to become “hyper-aware” to other stimuli like temperature, chewing, and brushing. One way to think of bruxism and its effect on your teeth is to compare it to spraining an ankle. What used to be comfortable is now painful to touch or walk on.

Over the long term, the grinding can wear down your enamel, expose underlying dentin, and lead to sensitivity. Bruxism will also accelerate periodontal disease and recession which is known to cause sensitivity. You may also notice headaches, jaw pain, or even chips or fractures in your teeth. Bruxism, as mentioned, is often related to stress, but may occur as a result of sleep disorders like sleep apnea and upper airway resistance syndrome.

Wearing a night guard can help reduce damage to your teeth and prevent further sensitivity. It is best to get a custom fit from your dentist because over-the-counter night guards may worsen temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems and cause your teeth to shift, affecting appearance and causing an imbalance in your bite.

A couple brushing their teeth in front of a mirror and practicing good dental hygiene

Over-Aggressive Brushing

Brushing your teeth is very important, but it is possible to brush too hard and actually cause damage. This can accelerate recession leading to exposure of the roots of your teeth (also known as recession), as well as wear through the dentin that protects the nerve living inside. To prevent this, you should be sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and hold it at a 45-degree angle to your gum line. For more in-depth information, you can view a video about brushing here.

Another great tip is to avoid abrasive toothpastes. For a list of toothpastes, see the image below. For one of the best toothpastes, which is not on this list, consider CTX gel by CariFree, which can be purchased at our office.

A list of toothpastes ranked by how abrasive they are

If you think you are experiencing tooth sensitivity due to aggressive brushing, the first step is adjusting your brushing technique. Your dentist may also apply a fluoride gel to strengthen your enamel and exposed roots from recession. Finally, there are many desensitizing toothpaste options available that may help reduce or prevent tooth sensitivity.

A diagram showing the effects of tooth decay/a cavity, which can lead to tooth sensitivity

Tooth Decay/Cavities

Tooth decay is the destruction of enamel due to bacteria in plaque. This can result in sensitivity in just one tooth, or a few teeth if there are multiple areas where decay is occurring. If this issue is left untreated, the decay can continue to spread and impact deeper layers of the tooth. What may start as sensitivity could later result in infection or even tooth loss.

To treat the decay, your dentist will remove the affected portion of the tooth and replace it with a tooth-colored filling. In the case of severe decay, a crown may be necessary.

Two diagrams showing the progression of periodontitis (gum disease)

Gum Disease

If tooth decay continues to progress, it can result in gum disease. This occurs when plaque build-up starts to harden under your gum line and becomes tartar, also known as calculus. Unlike plaque, tartar cannot be removed at home and will require professional cleaning. If it remains under your gum line, it can lead to inflammation (red and bleeding gums), recession, and pocket formation.

Treatment for gum disease may be performed by your dentist or by a periodontist, depending on your specific circumstances. It usually involves a combination of in-office cleaning and at-home dental hygiene.

When to See Your Dentist About Tooth Sensitivity

Since tooth sensitivity can be an indication of a more serious issue with your dental health, it’s important to bring up your concerns with your dentist. If your tooth pain is accompanied by difficulty swallowing, a rapid heart rate, confusion, and/or a high fever, you should seek emergency medical attention as these could be signs of an infection.

Skyline Dental

At Skyline Dental, we provide high-quality and compassionate dental care to address your concerns. We can find the cause of your sensitivity and treat it so you can enjoy your favorite foods again.

To schedule an appointment to discuss tooth sensitivity, contact us today.
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