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Sensitive teeth

You may have noticed that your teeth are feeling more sensitive, making you wince from time to time or even causing real pain.

Although uncomfortable, tooth sensitivity is a helpful warning sign that something’s wrong and that you need to see your dentist. Sensitivity can be treated and can usually be cured – but if left untreated, things are only likely to get worse.

How do you know if you have sensitive teeth?

You may have ‘ouch’ moments when:

  • You’re having a hot drink or eating an ice-cream
  • You’re eating something sour or very sweet
  • You bite down on something
  • An ache or pain persists well after the initial twinges
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Why do teeth become sensitive?

The reason why teeth feel sensitive is because the layer of dentine within the tooth has been exposed. This is because the protective enamel, on the surface of the tooth, has been damaged.

Dentine contains lots of very tiny holes which run through to the tooth's nerve. This indirect exposure of the nerve is why you feel sudden tooth sensitivity or pain.

Close up of a patient’s mouth as a dentist uses a small mirror to check for possible causes of tooth sensitivity

Is it normal to have sensitivity after a filling?

Sometimes you may have tooth sensitivity after a filling, but this usually clears up fairly quickly. Check back with your dentist if the sensitivity still hasn’t gone away a few weeks after your filling.

Woman holding hot coffee

How does sensitivity happen?

There are several causes for sensitivity, since dentine can be exposed in a number of ways.

  • You may have a broken or cracked tooth, or you may have a hole as a result of tooth decay which now needs a filling.
  • Over-brushing your teeth (too hard or for too long) can wear down your tooth enamel.
  • Acidic food and drink can erode your enamel.
  • Receding gums can slowly expose the root of your tooth, which doesn't have an enamel layer. This can occur naturally or through gum disease, including gingivitis.
  • Poor-quality cosmetic teeth whitening treatments can cause damage to your enamel.
  • If you grind your teeth, you can wear away your enamel or even the whole tooth.

Can tooth sensitivity be treated or avoided?

  • Make sure you have regular check-ups with your dentist and see your hygienist whenever you’re referred.
  • Follow your dentist’s or hygienist’s advice for looking after your teeth at home.
  • Visit your dentist as soon as you suspect you may have a problem such as a cavity, a cracked tooth or a change in your gums. Treatment can stop things getting worse.
  • Your dentist might recommend a fluoride gel, rinse or varnish. These can gradually build up the protective layer of your teeth.
  • Avoid sugary, fizzy and acidic foods and drinks.
  • Don’t brush your teeth from side to side – instead, use small, circular motions.
  • Switch to a softer toothbrush and replace it as soon as it shows signs of wear.
  • Use a desensitising toothpaste, ideally one with fluoride in (but take your dentist’s advice, because too much fluoride can be bad for you).

Looking for a dentist to help you with sensitive teeth?

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More about possible causes of tooth sensitivity


Find out about these common causes of sensitivity, and how to treat each one.

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Bupa Dental Care is a trading name of Oasis Healthcare Limited. Registered in England and Wales number: 03257078. Registered office: Bupa Dental Care Vantage Office Park, Old Gloucester Road, Hambrook, Bristol, United Kingdom BS16 1GW.

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