Sensitive teeth can be annoying to the point of distraction, making little, everyday things both inconvenient and painful. While a variety of treatments for sensitive teeth exist, the most popular is a sensitive tooth toothpaste, formulated to help ease the pain sensitive teeth can cause. Before buying a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth, however, it’s important to know what causes sensitive teeth, what the toothpaste does, and when you should pursue other treatments.

Causes of Sensitive Teeth

Like many oral health issues, sensitive teeth can have a number of causes or even more than one cause. In general sensitivity results from damage to the tooth, but that can take many forms. Common causes include the following:

  • Worn tooth enamel from using a hard toothbrush or brushing too aggressively
  • Tooth erosion due to highly acidic foods and beverages
  • Tooth erosion due to bulimia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Gum recession that leaves your root surface exposed

Just as these are all caused by different things, they may require different forms of treatment. If you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, such as while consuming hot or cold beverages or even while at rest, contact your dentist and they’ll walk you through what should happen next.

Treatments for Sensitive Teeth

Depending on the causes of your sensitive teeth, the degree of damage, and how the sensitivity manifests your dentist may recommend a number of different treatments. These might include changes in habits or diet— chewing sugarless gum to promote salivation, the right foods to help remineralize teeth, or giving up drinking or smoking are common recommendations. Occasionally your dentist might also suggest a special toothpaste made for sensitive teeth. As we’ve discussed, these kinds of toothpaste help sensitive teeth feel better. They can work in a variety of ways.

Some toothpastes are remineralizing, meaning that they help restore the enamel of the tooth and repair the damage that caused the sensitivity in the first place. This, combined with lifestyle and oral health regimen changes, can heal the damage done and help your tooth last longer. Other sensitive tooth toothpastes rely on a chemical called potassium nitrate, which helps block the sensations that cause sensitivity from reaching the nerves in the tooth and triggering pain. These can be purchased over the counter and used just like any other toothpaste as part of your daily oral health care routine.

When to See a Dentist

While over the counter treatments can help with mild sensitivity, if the issue goes on for too long or becomes more severe you’ll need to consult a dentist to help with the problem. Generally tooth sensitivity or pain that’s been caused by a cavity, a loose filling or crown, or exposed nerves will need to be treated in your dentist office. They may choose a number of different possible treatments, including replacing the filling or crown, installing a new one, or using bonding material to fix a cracked tooth. If tooth pain becomes very serious or the damage is too far gone, your dentist may recommend a root canal. Every situation is unique and your dentist will explain yours and discuss the options available should it come to that.

To recap, for sensitive teeth a toothpaste designed for sensitivity can be an affordable and easy option if the discomfort is mild. Just make sure you understand what causes sensitivity, what sensitive tooth toothpastes do and how they work, and when it’s time to contact your dentist for help.