Tooth Sensitivity 101

What causes sensitivity?

tooth sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity may be an insignificant, temporary problem, or it may indicate something more serious that needs immediate attention.
Sensitivity can be the result of many things including… hard brushing causing the erosion of tooth enamel, clenching or grinding, tooth decay or a more serious issue such as a tooth or gum abscess. We know that sensitivity occurs on natural teeth when drinking or eating acidic foods, extreme hot or cold temperatures and during the teeth whitening process.

Understanding Tooth Sensitivity

To understand sensitivity, you need to understand the tooth. Dentin is the hard, dense tissue forming the bulk of the tooth, underneath the enamel. The photo below shows normal dentin under a microscope with the tubules exposed. The photo on the right shows dentin after using a sensitive toothpaste. You can see that the sensitive toothpaste fills, or plugs in the pores of the dentin, often times giving relief. This is not a permanent fix, as the plugs will wear away quickly.

Teeth Whitening Sensitivity

A chemical reaction occurs during teeth whitening, and it is thought that, during this process, the dentin plugs within the tubules are released. These plugs have been formed in the dentinal tubules to decrease sensitivity. When released, there is fluid flow internally, which excites the pulpal tissue and causes sensitivity. If this truly is how the process occurs, then replacing these plugs as we whiten, or before and after treatment, we will be able to alter the pain sensations while accomplishing the goal of whitening.

What can I do if my teeth are sensitive

A simple fix for sensitivity could include brushing with a soft toothbrush and lukewarm water. If you are using a Whitening toothpaste,
discontinue it immediately. Using a sensitive toothpaste or a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste may also be beneficial. If these changes do not help within 24 hours, it may be a more serious concern requiring a visit to see your dentist. In any event, talk with your dentist right away if you are experiencing tooth sensitivity.

Jeffrey L. Angart, DDS



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