Toothbrush and/or toothpaste damage may be the most frequent cause of sensitive teeth. By brushing too hard and/or using abrasive toothpaste, you may be removing tooth structure at the necks of your teeth.
This can result in pain, especially to cold drinks, food, and air, but also to physical pressure, hot, sweet and sour.
The reason for the pain is exposed dentine – the inner substance of the tooth, which is covered by enamel. The enamel can get quite thin, especially where the tooth meets the root (at the gumline). The root is covered by a substance called cementum, which is easily worn away. Dentine contains little tunnels (tubules) that link to the nerves on the inside of the tooth, and when dentine is exposed, these nerves are easily stimulated, resulting in pain.
Other things which can cause sensitive teeth include:
tooth bleaching, and
a cracked tooth or filling.
What can I do about sensitive teeth?
To prevent further damage, brush your teeth gently as described on our toothbrush abrasion page and avoid abrasive toothpaste or use a non-alcohol mouthwash to wet your toothbrush instead.
Toothpastes for sensitive teeth
Desensitizing agents such as Sensodyne (there’s loads of different ones on the market now) work by blocking off the dentinal tubules, so that the nerves don’t get stimulated.
Sensodyne & Co. don’t work that well used as a toothpaste. They work a lot better by gently massaging the paste or gel into the sore spot with a finger. Do not rinse it off with water or mouthwash. It may take several weeks before the desired effect is achieved.
Desensitising toothpastes can be used indefinitely. The warning on the US packet not to use Sensodyne for more than a month is a legal requirement, designed so that people won’t put off seeing a dentist when something might be seriously wrong. There are no actual health reasons for not using desensitising agents long-term.