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What Does Tooth Sensitivity Feel Like?

Tooth sensitivity can feel like a sharp pain or discomfort when your teeth are exposed to cold, heat, acidic foods, sweets, or even air. Discover more at Flossy.

Last updated on

July 19, 2023

What Does Tooth Sensitivity Feel Like?

The way that your teeth look is important when it comes to your confidence and making first impressions, but the way your teeth feel is just as important. Sensitivity in your teeth can make it unbearable to eat some of your favorite foods, but the good news is that there are ways to fight against it.

So what are some common causes behind sensitive teeth? Is it normal, and what can you do to stop it? Here’s everything you need to know so you can start feeling your best.

What Do Sensitive Teeth Feel Like?

Sensitive teeth feel like a short, sharp sensation after eating or drinking something hot or cold. It’s not necessarily painful, but it is uncomfortable and can sway you away from wanting to enjoy some of your favorite foods, like coffee, tea, or ice cream.

Tooth sensitivity is not the same as tooth pain. Sensitivity only occurs while consuming something hot, cold, or sweet and may last for a few moments after. Tooth pain is usually a dull, throbbing sensation that is felt when biting down, applying pressure to the teeth, or even when there’s no stimulus at all.

With that said, it can be somewhat tough to tell the difference. If you’re concerned about the feeling of pain or discomfort in your teeth, see your dental provider.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Sensitive teeth can be caused by a wide variety of things; they can be worsened by a range of stimuli. Typically, sensitive teeth are caused by worn tooth enamel.

Your enamel is the outer, protective layer of your teeth. It is hard and defensive, protecting the more fragile anatomy of your tooth called dentin and pulp. When the enamel starts to wear away, it allows for these fragile elements to be exposed to hot, cold, and sweet substances. Since these structures contain nerves, you’ll start to feel sensations from these stimuli.

Dentin has microtubes that transmit signals to the pulp. When you eat something hot or cold, it sends these signals to the nerves more violently than when your enamel is intact.

With that all said, there are certain habits that might contribute to tooth sensitivity more severely. 

Some factors behind sensitive teeth include:

Oral Care Practices

  • Brushing too hard: You should brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush to remove plaque without stripping enamel. Brushing too hard, or using hard-bristled brushes, can be abrasive and lead to more sensitivity.
  • Teeth grinding: Grinding your teeth can naturally wear your enamel away and expose the layers of dentin. Teeth grinding (bruxism) is common, though many people don’t even realize they do it. Jaw soreness is usually an indicator.

Gum Recession

  • Gum recession: Gum recession occurs when the margin of the gum tissue surrounding teeth pulls back to expose the tooth root. This is common if you have gum disease. Exposed tooth roots can lead to increased sensitivity.

Diet and Drink

  • Acidic foods: Acids on your teeth are what lead to plaque and tartar, which wears away your enamel and can lead to sensitivity. Eating excessive amounts of citrus and sugar, or drinking coffee and wine, can make sensitivity worse.

Dental Products

  • Acidic mouthwash: In the same way that acidic foods can wear away enamel, acidic mouthwash can damage your tooth enamel. When you use mouthwash, try to look for one with a pH of 5.5 or higher.
  • Whitening products: Professional teeth whitening from a dentist is safe and effective for improving your smile. However, using over-the-counter products incorrectly can harm enamel. Improperly using tooth-bleaching substances can strip the enamel and may make teeth feel sensitive.

Tooth Health and Age

  • Damaged or cracked teeth: If your teeth are chipped or have a cavity, you could be more sensitive to hot or cold foods. In some cases, you might start to feel more pain than sensitivity, which is a sign to get it checked out.
  • Age: Teeth sensitivity tends to be the highest between the ages of 25 and 30. It’s not entirely known why this is, but it might have to do with certain lifestyle habits and changes.

Healing After a Dental Procedure

  • Note that with professional whitening, you may experience temporary sensitivity during the whitening procedure. In these cases, sensitivity for a few days is to be expected. Additionally, getting a cavity filled can make your teeth feel sensitive for a week or two.

How To Treat Sensitive Teeth

Sensitive teeth will last until you’re able to address the underlying problem. Here are some at-home and professional remedies to help bring you relief:

See a Dentist

Your teeth are going to continue to be sensitive until you get to the root of the problem. Before trying any home remedies, see your dentist to ensure there is no serious underlying problem.

A dentist can give you a comprehensive oral exam and see what might be causing your sensitive teeth before giving you a personalized treatment recommendation. Plus, oral exams are covered by most dental insurance companies, allowing you to get treatment at no cost.

With that said, over 33% of the population doesn’t have dental benefits, and even if you do, monthly fees and annual dues might not even make it worth it.

How To Access Dental Care Without Insurance

No insurance? Perfect. Flossy is a pay-as-you-go service where you only pay for the cost of the procedures you receive. Plus, we can save you up to 50% on common dental treatments to remove the costly barrier between you and your oral health.

No monthly payments, no annual caps, and a free membership mean that you don’t need to worry about the hidden fees associated with alternatives. There’s no waiting period to visit top dentists, so you can sign up today and start getting cared for right away.

Our dentists are rigorously vetted against a set of strict criteria to ensure that the experts in our network of providers are qualified and top-notch, ensuring that you’re getting the best care possible no matter what.

Don’t wait any longer to get treatment for sensitive teeth or any other procedure you’ve been waiting for. Locate a dentist near you and start feeling like the best version of yourself.

Use a Special Toothpaste

Desensitizing toothpaste can work to help block the pain associated with sensitive teeth, sort of like pain relief medications. Most of these toothpastes are available over the counter: You can get them in your local drugstore or supermarket.

These kinds of toothpaste accomplish this with ingredients that create a barrier over sensitive areas of your teeth, working to prevent discomfort by preventing foods and drinks from triggering exposed nerves or dentin. These ingredients include potassium nitrate and sodium chloride, which help lessen discomfort and prevent further sensitivity.

Use a Soft Toothbrush

Brushing your teeth is essential, but you might do more harm than good by using a hard-bristled toothbrush that strips away your enamel by the gum line. Hard bristled brushes, especially when paired with applying too much pressure to your teeth, can worsen teeth sensitivity. 

Instead, opt for a soft-bristled toothbrush that is better for your teeth and gums. Not to mention, they’ll just feel more comfortable to use.

Use a Saltwater Rinse

Saltwater is a well-loved aid for easing pain in the teeth and gums, at least temporarily. It’s a cheap, easy remedy that you can probably do right from your own home. Simply mix one teaspoon of salt into a cup of warm water. Swish and gargle in your mouth for at least five minutes before spitting.

Use Fluoride

Despite there being a lot of debate in regard to the efficacy of fluoride, it’s a natural mineral that is really great for oral health and tooth sensitivity. In fact, drinking fluoridated water has been shown to reduce cavities and tooth decay by about 25% in children and adults.

Fluoride can be found in most drinking water, but fluoride toothpastes or mouthwashes can provide an extra layer of support. Fluoride gel is also available at most dentists’ offices to support strong teeth and gums. At your next bi-annual cleaning, your dentist can recommend the optimal oral care routine for you. 

Practice Proper Oral Health

Sensitive teeth can be caused by worn-away enamel, and if you don’t work to protect your enamel through healthy lifestyle habits, then you’ll probably find that your sensitivity does not improve.

Brushing and flossing are the main defense against tooth decay, periodontal disease, and sensitive teeth. But it’s also important to visit your dentist twice a year to nip problems before they become severe.

Additionally, if you struggle with teeth grinding at night, consider wearing a mouthguard when you sleep to prevent the enamel on the tops of your teeth from shaving away. You can get fitted for mouthguards by your dentist or get some over the counter.

Watch What You Eat

No one wants to give up their favorite foods, but if sweet foods, hot coffees, or cold ice creams are making you feel uncomfortable, it never hurts to try to be cognizant of how often you eat these. Try to limit foods that cause your sensitivity as much as you can.

Sweet foods and sodas can lead to other oral health problems when consumed. Sugars in these foods adhere to the surface of your teeth and lead to plaque and tartar buildup, which ultimately leads to cavities.

When Should You See a Dentist About Sensitive Teeth?

Tooth sensitivity can be frustrating and annoying, but it’s not always a cause for alarm. Sometimes, it’s just a temporary sensation that can go away on its own. However, there are some signs where it might be time to go see a professional to make sure something more serious isn’t happening.

If your pain or sensitivity becomes so severe to the point where you can’t carry out your daily routine, or if you’re unable to function without being inundated by pain, it’s time to see a dentist. Additionally, if the sensitivity lasts for several weeks without getting any better, you probably want to schedule a visit with a professional as soon as you can.

In Conclusion

Teeth sensitivity is caused by tubules in the layers underneath the enamel, which send signals to the nerves. When the protective outer layer (enamel) is removed, it can cause you to become more sensitive to hot, cold, or sweet foods. Even cold air can make your teeth feel sensitive.

Luckily, many over-the-counter remedies like toothpaste, fluoride mouthwash, or proper oral hygiene can help. But seeing a professional is the best thing you can do. And you don’t need insurance to get affordable care. Find a Flossy dentist near you who can take up to 50% off your next dental treatment — schedule an appointment now. 


Sensitive teeth: What treatments are available? | The Mayo Clinic 

Dental coverage, access & outcomes | ADA

Community Water Fluoridation | Division of Oral Health | CDC

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