What is tooth sensitivity?

Do you sometimes feel sharp, stabbing tooth pain? It's time to clarify the mystery of tooth sensitivity.

Tooth sensitivity: a common problem

If you have already felt sharp, stabbing tooth pain in particular situations, it could very well be tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity can occur at any age, but it is more frequent in people between the ages of 20 and 50. It is estimated that it affects one out of three Canadians.

Tooth sensitivity, also called dentin hypersensitivity (dentinal), is often due to receding gums which expose the lower part of the tooth and no longer completely protects dentin. Dentin is the sensitive layer located under the tooth's enamel. Enamel wear can also be the cause of exposure of dentin. The following factors, among others, can cause contact with dentin which activates nerve endings, resulting in pain:

  • hot, cold, sweet, spicy or acidic drinks or foods
  • teeth brushing
  • inhaling cool or cold air
  • flossing, and
  • touching the tooth area

Sensitivity may be occasional, or in some cases, nearly constant. At times, pain due to tooth sensitivity can be intermittent. It can be described as a throbbing or sudden and acute pain.

Tooth sensitivity may develop suddenly or gradually, but generally signals an underlying problem. While the discomfort for some people is only slight, tooth sensitivity can be extremely uncomfortable for others. Some mistakenly believe the condition to be normal (something that occurs naturally with age, for example) and because of this, do not seek solutions.


Tooth sensitivity can have various causes, including the following:

Consuming acidic foods and drinks.  Certain foods or drinks can contribute to a chemical process that demineralizes the tooth's enamel. This is the case, for example, with soft drinks, citrus and citrus juice.

Gum disease. Gingivitis and periodontitis, for example, are diseases that can cause gums to recede, called gingival recession. The tooth, more specifically, dentin, then becomes exposed.

Overbrushing. Excessive pressure applied during brushing, brushing too frequently or the use of a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear enamel over time and damage gums.

Tooth whitening. Tooth sensitivity may be felt during or after a teeth whitening treatment. This effect is usually temporary.

Professional scaling. Scaling and other dental procedures (i.e. the placing of a filling or orthodontic appliance) can cause temporary tooth sensitivity.

Teeth grinding (bruxism). People who grind their teeth during the night are more at risk of having tooth sensitivity. Some individuals will feel its effects especially in the morning.


Keep in mind that other dental or health problems can cause pain, such as:

  • dental caries or tooth breakage
  • mouth infections
  • problems with an old filling
  • an improper bite
  • a poorly fitted dental prosthesis
  • mouth ulcers, and
  • a sinus infection (sinusitis) or ear infection (otitis)

A thorough dental examination will enable your dentist to determine the cause of your mouth or tooth pain. Depending on the cause, your dentist will devise an appropriate action plan that will have you smiling again!

Tooth sensitivity is often indicative of an underlying problem that must be treated. That said, adopting healthy habits will help to limit the problem. Find out how to prevent and treat tooth sensitivity.



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What is tooth sensitivity?

Do you sometimes feel sharp, stabbing tooth pain? It's time to clarify the mystery of tooth sensitivity.