5 Surprising Causes of Sensitive Teeth

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Do your teeth seem to be sensitive to every little thing? Your own daily habits may be causing your tooth pain. Exposure to hot or cold foods or drinks can cause pain if your teeth are sensitive. So can eating very sweet foods. Even regular flossing and brushing can be painful. That's because the coating on your teeth—called enamel—can wear away over time. This exposes the nerves of your teeth and causes pain. Here are five things you may be doing to contribute enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity.

1. Eating and drinking too much acid. 

The acid in foods and beverages wear down the enamel on your teeth. Citrus fruits, like oranges and lemons, tend to be high in acid. So does yogurt. Many drinks are acidic, too. They include wine, sodas and other carbonated drinks. 

2. Brushing your teeth too hard. 

Scrubbing your teeth really hard doesn't get them cleaner. And, it may be harming them. Vigorous brushing, especially using a side-to-side motion, wears away the enamel. The area where your teeth meet your gums is most affected. Brushing and flossing too many times a day and brushing with abrasive toothpaste can also lead to tooth sensitivity. 

3. Grinding your teeth. 

Some people grind their teeth when they feel stressed or anxious. But, tooth grinding is a bad habit that wears away enamel on the teeth. Other people grind their teeth while sleeping. In either case, ask your dentist about ways to break the habit. Your dentist may recommend wearing a mouth guard while you sleep.

4. Bleaching your teeth. 

If you use a whitening kit for a brighter smile, you may be worsening your tooth pain. Tooth bleaching tends to make your teeth feel more sensitive. Try talking with your dentist about ways to brighten your smile that don't have this effect.

5. Neglecting your dental health. 

Poor dental health can lead to sensitive teeth. Plaque can build up on your teeth if you don't brush and floss and get regular checkups and cleanings. Plaque buildup can cause gum disease, which wears away the gum that protects your teeth and exposes the nerves below. Problems with your teeth can also make them more sensitive. If you develop a chip or crack in a tooth and don't get treatment, the damage can extend all the way down to the root and cause tooth sensitivity.

There are treatments that can help ease tooth sensitivity. These include using special toothpaste or having dental work, such as a crown, gum grafts, or a root canal. Talk with your dentist about options if you can't find relief on your own.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Dec 30
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Sensitive Teeth. American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sensitive-teeth
  2. Sensitive Teeth. British Dental Health Foundation. https://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/caring-for-teeth/sensitive-teeth 
  3. What Causes Sensitive Teeth, and How Can I Treat Them? Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sensitive-teeth/faq-20057854