A woman is holding her cheek due to a toothache. Sensitive teeth can cause problems like this.

Why Do I Have Sensitive Teeth?

Sensitive teeth are a very common problem, and they are becoming more and more apparent among our patients. It affects about 57% of the population, and the condition is frequently found in young people.

Teeth sensitivity presents a sharp pain that typically goes away within a few seconds. This pain is generalized and usually triggered by cold air or drinks, sugars, pressure or touch, eating citrus fruits, or consuming acidic foods. There are many other causes of tooth pain, and it is very important to diagnose the cause so that the sensitivity is treated correctly.

X-ray illustration of a man's jaw. His sensitive teeth are glowing red to highlight the affected area.

Sensitive teeth occur when the smear layer is damaged or removed.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

It is important to know that not all exposed dentin is sensitive, and the following needs to happen in order for you to experience what we call dentin hypersensitivity.

Normally exposed dentinal surface has a protective protein layer called a smear layer. This covers the dentinal surface and protects it. Once this protective coating becomes disrupted or removed, and the dentinal tubules become exposed to the oral environment, dentinal sensitivity can occur.

Here are four reasons why dentinal hypersensitivity happens:

  1. Gum Recession: This is most common reason for dentinal hypersensitivity. The condition can be caused by excessive brushing, traumatic gum injury, periodontal disease, grinding teeth, or poor oral hygiene. Gum recession leaves the root surface of the tooth exposed, where no enamel is present and dentin is unprotected.
  1. Tooth Wear: Tooth wear is very common and occurs in about 97% of the population, although some people’s teeth wear faster than others. Excessive tooth wear can be caused by clenching or grinding (also known as bruxism), or oral habits such as holding objects between your teeth like pencils, pins, nails, straw, etc. Brushing with a hard toothbrush can also cause this condition. The enamel becomes thinned or wears off completely, then dentin is exposed and the tooth becomes sensitive.
  1. Tooth Erosion: This condition is due to a highly acidic diet, or caused by bulimia or GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease.
  1. Poor Oral Hygiene: Over-brushing or brushing incorrectly can harm your teeth. Ask your dentist about specific ways you should brush in order to prevent harm to your teeth.


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