What Causes Sensitive Teeth?
Tooth Sensitivity is Caused by the Exposure of Dentine
Tooth sensitivity is caused by the gradual exposure of the softer part of your tooth that lies under the tooth enamel, called "dentine." Dentine has tiny tubes ('tubules') that contain nerve endings and are filled with fluid. Eating or drinking foods and drinks that are hot, cold or sweet can cause this fluid to move. This fluid movement causes the nerve endings to react in response, triggering a twinge of discomfort or a short, sharp pain.
Some of the most common habits and dental conditions that can cause sensitive teeth include:
In this section we look at some of the main causes of sensitivity.
Brushing Too Hard
Dental hygiene habits such as brushing too frequently, too vigorously or with a hard-bristled toothbrush can eventually wear down tooth enamel. These can also cause receding gums, causing further exposure of the dentine.
If you grind your teeth when you sleep, or if you clench your teeth throughout the day, you may be wearing down enamel and exposing the underlying dentine layer of your teeth.
Gum Disease (Gingivitis)
When gum tissue becomes inflamed and weakened from gingivitis (gum disease), you might have sensitive gums and may feel tooth sensitivity because more of the underlying dentine root surface is exposed.
A receding gum near the sensitive tooth, caused by conditions such as periodontal disease, can expose the tooth's dentine and cause sensitivity. Brushing too vigorously or frequently can also cause receding gums.
- e.g. from tooth grinding or overly frequent tooth brushing
- e.g. from gum disease or aggressive tooth brushing
The sensitivity which can be experienced during and after professional tooth whitening (bleaching) treatments is different from dentinal hypersensitivity. See 'Do tooth whitening treatments cause sensitivity?' for more information.