Understanding Dentin Hypersensitivity: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment

dentin hypersensetivity

Dentin hypersensitivity, often referred to as sensitive teeth, is a common dental concern affecting millions of people worldwide. It manifests as a sharp, sudden pain originating from the teeth in response to specific stimuli like cold beverages, hot drinks, or even sweet or acidic foods. This discomfort can disrupt everyday activities like enjoying a refreshing drink or indulging in your favorite ice cream.

Let’s delve deeper into understanding dentin hypersensitivity, its causes, symptoms, preventive measures, and available treatment options.

What is Dentin Hypersensitivity?

Teeth are composed of multiple layers, each with a vital function. The outermost protective layer is enamel, the hardest substance in the human body. Beneath the enamel lies dentin, a softer yet essential layer that forms the bulk of the tooth structure. Dentin contains microscopic tubules that extend from the outer surface towards the pulp, the innermost chamber housing nerves and blood vessels.

In dentin hypersensitivity, the enamel protecting the tooth becomes worn away or the gum recedes, exposing these microscopic tubules. When exposed, any external stimuli can trigger a rapid fluid movement within the tubules, stimulating the nerves in the pulp and causing a brief, sharp pain.

10 Causes of Dentin Hypersensitivity

Several factors can contribute to dentin hypersensitivity. Here are ten common causes:

  1. Receding Gums: Gum recession is a major culprit, exposing the dentin at the root surface which lacks the protective enamel layer. This recession can be caused by aggressive brushing, periodontal disease, hormonal changes, or simply aging.
  2. Worn Enamel: Over time, enamel can erode due to factors like acidic foods and drinks, grinding teeth (bruxism), or excessive brushing with abrasive toothpaste. As the enamel wears down, the underlying dentin becomes vulnerable.
  3. Cracked or Fractured Teeth: Cracks or chips in the tooth can expose dentin directly to external stimuli, leading to hypersensitivity. Fractures can occur due to trauma, biting down on hard objects, or uneven pressure distribution while chewing.
  4. Dental Procedures: Certain dental procedures, such as teeth whitening, crown placement, or root scaling and planing, can temporarily increase tooth sensitivity. This is usually a short-lived side effect that resolves within a few days.
  5. Aggressive Brushing: Brushing too hard with a stiff-bristled toothbrush can wear down enamel and irritate gums, leading to receding gums and ultimately, dentin hypersensitivity.
  6. Gum Disease: Untreated gum disease (gingivitis or periodontitis) can cause inflammation and destruction of gum tissue, leading to gum recession and exposing dentin.
  7. Bulimia or Acid Reflux: Frequent vomiting associated with bulimia or chronic acid reflux exposes teeth to stomach acids, eroding enamel and increasing sensitivity.
  8. Certain Medications: Some medications, like antidepressants or antihistamines, can have dry mouth as a side effect. Saliva plays a crucial role in protecting teeth, and dryness can make them more susceptible to sensitivity.
  9. Genetics: Some people may be genetically predisposed to having thinner enamel or more sensitive dentin, making them more prone to hypersensitivity.
  10. Age: As we age, gums naturally recede, exposing more of the tooth root surface and increasing the likelihood of dentin hypersensitivity.

5 Symptoms of Dentin Hypersensitivity

While the hallmark symptom of dentin hypersensitivity is a sharp, sudden pain in response to specific stimuli, the following can also be indicative:

  1. Brief, Sharp Pain: The pain typically comes on quickly and subsides just as rapidly, lasting only seconds after the stimulus is removed.
  2. Sensitivity to Temperature: Cold beverages, hot drinks, or even breathing in cold air can trigger the characteristic pain.
  3. Sensitivity to Sweets or Acids: Sweet or acidic foods and drinks may also provoke a similar pain response.
  4. Pain When Brushing or Flossing: In some cases, even routine brushing or flossing can induce discomfort.
  5. Localized Pain: The pain is usually well-defined and originates from the specific tooth or teeth with exposed dentin.

How to Prevent Dentin Hypersensitivity

Several preventive measures can help reduce the risk of developing dentin hypersensitivity:

  1. Maintain Proper Brushing Technique: Brushing gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and using a fluoride toothpaste can help protect enamel and prevent gum recession.
  2. Use Desensitizing Toothpaste: Toothpastes formulated with ingredients like potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride can help block the dentinal tubules and reduce sensitivity.
  3. Limit Acidic and Sugary Foods: Reducing consumption of acidic or sugary beverages and foods can minimize enamel erosion.
  4. Treat Gum Disease: Promptly addressing gum disease through professional dental care is essential

Treatment for Dentin Hypersensitivity

There are various treatment options available for dentin hypersensitivity, ranging from at-home remedies to in-office procedures performed by a dentist in baulkham hills. The best approach depends on the severity of your condition and the underlying cause.

At-Home Remedies:

  • Desensitizing Toothpaste: This is often the first line of defense recommended by dentists. These toothpastes contain ingredients like potassium nitrate or stannous fluoride that work by blocking the dentinal tubules, thereby reducing the transmission of stimuli to the nerves in the pulp. It’s important to be patient, as it typically takes regular use (often several weeks) for these toothpastes to achieve a noticeable reduction in sensitivity.
  • Home Remedies: While limited scientific evidence exists, some people find relief with natural remedies like propolis, a resinous substance produced by honeybees. Propolis may possess desensitizing properties, but further research is needed to confirm its efficacy. It’s crucial to consult your dentist before trying any alternative treatments.

In-Office Dental Treatments:

If at-home remedies fail to provide sufficient relief, your dentist may recommend one or more of the following in-office procedures:

  • Fluoride Gel: Professional-grade fluoride gel applied by your dentist is more concentrated than over-the-counter options. This treatment strengthens tooth enamel, making it more resistant to erosion and reducing sensitivity.
  • Crowns, Fillings, or Bonding: These procedures address exposed dentin directly. Crowns completely cover the tooth, while fillings or bonding materials are used to repair cracks, chips, or worn-down tooth surfaces. Covering the exposed dentin eliminates the pathway for stimuli to reach the nerve, effectively resolving hypersensitivity.
  • Gum Tissue Graft:¬† In cases where gum recession is the primary cause of dentin hypersensitivity, a gum graft may be necessary. This surgical procedure involves transplanting healthy gum tissue from another area of the mouth to cover the exposed tooth root surface. This not only protects the dentin but also improves gum health and aesthetics.
  • Root Canal: If dentin hypersensitivity is severe and persistent, and other treatments prove ineffective, a root canal may be the last resort. This procedure involves removing the inflamed pulp, the innermost chamber of the tooth, which houses the nerves and blood vessels. Following the removal of the pulp, the tooth canal is cleaned, disinfected, and filled with a sealing material. While a root canal eliminates the source of pain, the tooth becomes non-vital and may require a crown for long-term protection and function.


Dentin hypersensitivity, while a bothersome dental concern, is a treatable condition. By understanding the causes and available treatment options, you can effectively manage tooth sensitivity and enjoy pain-free indulgence in your favorite foods and beverages. Remember, consulting your dentist for a proper diagnosis and personalized treatment plan is crucial for achieving long-term relief and maintaining good oral health.