What are sensitive teeth?

Tooth sensitivity results from irritation of nerves in the tooth, which leads to pain or discomfort when teeth are exposed to hot or cold temperatures or to acidic food and beverages. Sensitivity can also occur during flossing or brushing of the teeth and while eating or chewing.

Above the gums, teeth are protected by a hard coating called enamel. The roots are protected by a similar substance called cementum. The enamel and cementum cover the dentin layer of the tooth. Dentin is also hard, but it is filled with microscopic channels known as tubules. In the center of the tooth is the pulp, which is the vital, or living, part of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels.

Damage to the enamel or cementum exposes the dentin. Stimulation and irritation of the nerves of the teeth can occur through the tubules of the dentin, leading to pain or discomfort.

Damage to the enamel or cementum can result from tooth decay, tooth trauma, and tooth erosion or wear. A common cause of tooth decay is poor oral hygiene. Regular brushing, flossing, and dental checkups can help prevent tooth decay. Tooth trauma can be caused by injury to the mouth, from biting down too hard, from biting on something hard, or from tooth grinding, which can wear down the teeth.

Repeated exposure to stomach acid, which may occur with bulimia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can erode the tooth enamel. Erosion can also be caused by brushing your teeth too hard.

Sensitive teeth rarely represent a medical emergency. However, sensitivity can be associated with tooth decay, which can lead to cavities and their complications. It can also be related to traumatic damage to the tooth, which can become infected if left untreated.

Seek prompt medical care if you have a broken or cracked tooth, or if you have symptoms that suggest a cavity, cracked tooth, or infection. These symptoms include sensitivity to heat, significant overall sensitivity, pain when biting or chewing, fever, toothache, and swelling or redness of the gums. If your tooth sensitivity is persistent or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.


What other symptoms might occur with sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the teeth may also involve other body systems.

Oral symptoms that may occur along with sensitive teeth

Sensitive teeth may accompany other symptoms affecting the mouth including:


What causes sensitive teeth?

Sensitive teeth can result from damage to tooth enamel or the cementum (protective covering of the root). A common cause of damage is tooth decay and cavity formation. Trauma can break or crack the teeth, grinding can wear them down, and even overly vigorous brushing can cause damage. Chronic exposure to acid due to gastroesophageal reflux disease ( Read more about sensitive teethcauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Mouth, Teeth and Oral Health