“My teeth are killing me, they are so sensitive…”


Sensitive teeth or ‘dentine hypersensitivity’ is one of the most common clinical conditions encountered in dental practice worldwide. It can have a significant negative impact on the quality of life of people if it is not self managed properly or else treated appropriately by a dental professional.

What is Dentine hypersensitivity (DH)?

It is a short sharp pain from exposed dentine. It occurs in response to stimulation from cold, heat, touch, acids and osmotic changes and cannot be explained by any other dental defect or disease.

What causes this pain and discomfort?

Some of the most common causes of ‘tooth sensitivity’ are:

  • Tooth erosion due to the exposure of highly acidic foods and drinks.
  • Gum recession that leaves your root surface exposed.
  • Worn tooth enamel from using a ‘hard’ toothbrush and brushing aggressively.
  • Post dental treatment sensitivity is common, but only temporary, especially with crowns and fillings.
  • Tooth decay and broken teeth or fillings that expose the dentin of your tooth.
  • Grinding your teeth at night.

What can I do to prevent this from occurring?

Dentine hypersensitivity can only be prevented and managed successfully by first diagnosing and dealing with the causative factors and removing them systematically one at a time.

They may include:

  • Faulty tooth brushing, including the use of ‘hard’ toothbrushes.
  • Using excessive force when brushing
  • Scrubbing at the necks of the teeth.
  • Exposure to erosive agents from the diet and also internally from the body.
  • Side effect of tooth whitening.

The correct method of tooth brushing, using a soft brush, avoiding abrasive toothpastes and brushing two hours after exposure to acidic drinks will all help to reduce the loss of enamel from vulnerable areas prone to dentine hypersensitivity.

Can this be treated at home?

There are a few ‘home’ tricks you can introduce in order to treat mild sensitivity. 

Desensitising agents are mostly in the form of toothpastes. Only desensitizing toothpastes containing a combination of potassium salts, fluoride ions, strontium, tin(II) [stannous], arginine and calcium carbonate, show evidence of limited efficacy and are best applied using a soft toothbrush without water and not rinsing afterwards. Check the contents on the side of your toothpaste tube to make sure the one you have chosen has a combination of some of the items listed above. Another tip for an adult is to place a thin layer of the desensitizing toothpaste on the inside of a custom made mouth guard from your dental surgery and to wear this for a few hours every day for four days or until you get full relief. If there is no relief despite your best efforts you may need to request  in-surgery desensitising or further investigation of the source of your discomfort.

“Prevention is better than cure”Click here to hear our experts speak more about dealing with sensitivity.