How often do you feel that sharp, sudden jolt of pain inside your teeth? That sensation is known as tooth sensitivity, and it’s a fairly common occurrence.

Because tooth sensitivity causes pain, you might assume that you need to call your dentist and make an appointment whenever you feel it. However, tooth sensitivity isn’t always a sign of a dental issue that requires treatment. Learn when and why people experience tooth sensitivity below.

Environmental Factors

Some of the simplest causes of tooth sensitivity stem from the environment directly surrounding the tooth. In fact, people frequently (and unintentionally) cause their own tooth sensitivity by doing everyday actions, such as those listed in this section.

1. Drinking Hot or Cold Beverages

A cool glass of ice water can feel like a luxurious treat on a hot day-unless it affects a sensitive spot on your teeth. Hot or cold beverages rub across sensitive tooth areas, and the unusual temperature stimulates the nerves inside the tooth, creating the sensation of pain.

2. Eating Acidic Foods

Any time you eat an acidic food, the acid has a minor interaction with the enamel on your teeth. If an area on the tooth is already prone to sensitivity, the acid-enamel interaction may tickle that spot just right and cause pain. Common acidic foods include citrus fruits, tea, pickles, tomatoes, and soft drinks.

3. Grinding Your Teeth

This common bad habit can also wear down the enamel on specific parts of your teeth. If you’ve been a teeth grinder for years, the enamel may be worn enough for sensitivity to occur regularly. Ask your dentist about a mouth guard to discourage tooth grinding.

4. Brushing Teeth Incorrectly

Brushing your teeth seems like a simple act, but it’s easy to scrub too hard and expose sensitive areas.
Using a hard-bristled toothbrush can contribute to this problem, as can brushing too hard around the gumline.
Brush softer and try a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth.

Dental Treatments

Sometimes tooth sensitivity occurs soon after you’ve had a dental treatment. This section discusses this form of dental sensitivity.

1. Fillings

When your local anesthesia wears off after you have a cavity filled, you may notice environmental sensitivity in the tooth, similar to the sensitivity described in the previous section. Usually, the tooth is merely adjusting to the presence of the filling, and the sensitivity should vanish within a few weeks. If the sensitivity becomes excessively bothersome, contact your dentist.

2. Root Canals

After a root canal, the treated area must heal. As the swelling in the area reduces, you may experience sensitivity that originates from deeper in your tooth. A mild pain reliever can minimize the pain, and the pain should subside after a few days.

3. Teeth Whitening

Most forms of tooth whitening work by breaking down stains on the surface of teeth. In the process, the treatment also affects tooth enamel, leaving sensitive areas exposed. A Reader’s Digest poll revealed that up to 78% of patients may notice tooth sensitivity after whitening treatments.

4. Crowns

Many people don’t experience sensitivity after having a crown placed since the crown covers all or most of the natural tooth. However, if your new crown causes you slight pain and the pain increases over a week or so, schedule a follow-up visit to have the crown evaluated.

Medical or Dental Conditions

In some cases, tooth sensitivity is a symptom or a side effect of another health condition. It may surprise you to learn that not all these conditions occur in the mouth.

1. Pregnancy

Many women report feeling tooth sensitivity while pregnant. The sensitivity usually occurs because of increased hormone production or increased blood flow throughout the body, including in the mouth and around dental nerves.

2. Gum Disease

Gingivitis, or gum disease, is a common dental problem. Usually, it develops when people floss infrequently or incompletely, allowing bacteria to build up around the gums. As gum disease progresses, it can pull the gumline away from the more sensitive parts of teeth.

3. Exposed Tooth Roots

Even if you don’t have gum disease, your tooth roots may become slightly exposed. For example, vigorous brushing around the gumline may lift your gums away from the tooth slightly. Since the area underneath the gums doesn’t have the same amount of protective enamel as the tooth’s crown, it is more sensitive.

When to Worry About Tooth Sensitivity

Of course, not all cases of tooth sensitivity are benign. Typically, if sensitivity occurs in the same area repeatedly, you may have a small crack in your tooth or a loose filling. A tooth infection may also cause noticeable tooth sensitivity. Infection-related sensitivity likely includes sensitivity from biting down too hard.

If you notice this type of tooth sensitivity, especially if it bothers you, bring it up with your dentist. The team at All About Smiles can help you identify the cause of your tooth sensitivity and recommend ways to avoid it in the future.