• Dr Zoe

If Ice Cream Hurts...


Let’s talk about sensitive teeth, also known as, 'dentine hypersensitivity'.


For example; when you eat or drink something cold, hot or sweet and it causes a sharp shooting pain that literally goes right through you but it doesn’t linger once this stimulus has gone.

Why does it happen?

The middle portion of the tooth (dentine) is usually covered by a very hard tissue called enamel. If there is reduced or no enamel the dentine is exposed to the oral environment therefore whatever we put into our mouths could cause this horrible reaction.


Dentine is the part of the tooth that communicates with the nerve which is the live part of the tooth. It is made up of pores/tubes that extend from the enamel to the nerve and when something cold, hot or sweet touches the tooth a signal is sent to the nerve which produces the horrible but very quick sharp shooting pain that makes your whole body cringe.



Common causes of dentine exposure and sensitivity:

  • Dental decay

  • Worn enamel due to attrition (tooth grinding on tooth) and erosion due to acidic beverages

  • Gum disease or gum recession leading to exposed root dentine

  • Tooth grinding causing microfractures in the tooth

  • Broken/chipped teeth

  • Recent dental treatment such as a new filling or a filling that is leaking

  • Temporary sensitivity when tooth whitening

How can we manage this?

*First things first - find out WHAT is causing your teeth to feel sensitive!*


Once the cause of sensitivity has been worked out managing and treating the issue is much more straightforward. Below is advice and some tips to help you manage it yourself and ways in which a dental professional can help.

At Home Management:

  • Swap your normal toothpaste for sensitive toothpaste - my go to is Colgate Sensitive Pro-Relief and I use this 2x daily which helps.

  • Spit but do not rinse - this goes for any toothpaste

  • Desensitising agents are available off the shelf or your dentist can provide you with these to use at home.

  • Fluoride mouthwash can also be used, however, mouthwash should always be used before or at a separate time from brushing your teeth… otherwise you are washing off the toothpaste which will have a higher concentration of fluoride than the mouthwash itself…remember spit do not rinse!


(FYI - the ideal concentration of fluoride you are looking for is 1450ppm - you can check on the toothpaste box before buying!)

Being Kind to Your Teeth:

  • Avoid highly acidic and sugary foods and drinks for snacks as these have the potential to cause erosion of the enamel leaving the dentine exposed.

  • Don’t brush too hard - a good way of knowing if you are brushing too heavily is with an electric toothbrush that flashes red when you are being a tad over zealous.

  • Wait 30-60 minutes after eating/drinking before you brush.


Your Dentist:

  • High concentration fluoride placement on localised areas of sensitivity which can help in the short term but most likely this will have to be repeated.

  • White filling material that sticks to the tooth surface is also a tooth friendly way of protecting the dentine exposed and therefore protecting it from any stimulus that causes the sensitivity.

  • If the cause is due to tooth clenching or grinding and has possibly caused cracked tooth syndrome, we can attempt to break this habit and protect the teeth by providing you with a guard to wear over your teeth at night. If you are grinding due to dental reasons that are a bit more complex, for example, your bite is not quite right then it may take some more advanced treatments to resolve it.

  • If the cause is due to gum recession as a result from gum disease and the management of it then regularly seeing your hygienist for cleans and oral hygiene advice is highly recommended

Identifying the cause of sensitivity is something you may be able to work out yourself or something your dentist can help you with. You should always mention this issue at your dental check ups.


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