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Understanding Different Types of Tooth Sensitivity and How to Manage Them

If you experience pain or discomfort each time you take a spoonful of hot soup or a bite of ice cream, chances are, you have tooth sensitivity.

Dentin Hypersensitivity or tooth sensitivity is when a person feels discomfort or pain in their teeth in response to certain stimuli like cold or hot temperatures. Tooth sensitivity may be mild (temporary) or chronic, and it can affect one or several teeth. There are also several reasons why a person may develop tooth sensitivity, and its treatment usually involves making changes to your oral hygiene regimen and your daily oral habits.

Below, we shall be taking a look at the different types of tooth sensitivity, their causes and the best ways to manage them. 

Types of Tooth Sensitivity, Their Causes and Treatment 

Tooth sensitivity may manifest as:

Sensitivity to Cold, Hot, Sour or Sweet Foods and Drinks

 This is one of the most common forms of tooth sensitivity, and it is usually a result of worn teeth enamel. When people with this type of sensitivity bite into either hot, cold, sweet or sour foods, the exposed dentin and nerve within their teeth come into contact with the food and cause pain. 

Thankfully, this type of sensitivity can be easily managed with desensitising toothpaste and fluoridated mouthwash. You will also need to use only soft-bristled toothbrushes and avoid acidic or sweet foods and beverages.

Tooth grinding, receding gums and tooth decay may also cause this type of sensitivity and if any of them are the culprit, you will need to see your dentist for dental treatment. 

Pain When Chewing or Biting Food  

This type of tooth sensitivity or pain is usually a sign of either a loose filling, a chipped/cracked tooth or tooth decay. If this is the type of pain you’re experiencing, you need to schedule an appointment with your dentist immediately. Your dentist will assess the situation and carry out treatment which may range from cleaning and sealing the affected area to performing a root canal.

Dull Ache and Pressure Near the Sinus Area

In this case, the pain can appear either on one or both sides of the sinus. It is also accompanied by pain in the upper teeth area, which can be very uncomfortable. This type of sensitivity can be easily confused with sinus pain (caused by congestion following a cold or flu), so it is important that you see your dentist as quickly as possible to determine the real culprit. If it is indeed a toothache, your dentist can then proceed with the best course of treatment.

Lingering Sensitivity to Cold, Hot, Sour and Sweet Foods and Liquids 

 Having pain or sensitivity that lingers for several hours after consuming cold, hot or sour foods (and drinks) is usually a sign of very serious oral health issues that require the immediate attention of a dentist. The sensitivity may be a result of physical trauma, deep tooth decay, an abscess or an infection of a tooth pulp. 

Post Dental Treatment Sensitivity

 This is the type of sensitivity that usually occurs following a dental treatment or procedure. Treatments like teeth whitening can irritate your teeth’s pulp tissue and cause sensitivity, but it is usually mild and temporary. Over-the-counter pain medications can help with this kind of sensitivity. However, if it persists, you will need to see your dentist.

Acute, Lingering and Non-specific Pain

 This is a type of sensitivity that affects more than one tooth. With this type of sensitivity, patients feel acute pain but are unsure of where exactly it’s coming from. An infected pulp tissue (where the decay has reached the nerve area in the centre of the tooth) is usually the cause of this type of sensitivity. A root canal treatment is typically required to save the tooth in this situation.

Other Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Some of the other causes of tooth sensitivity include; 

  • Teeth grinding.
  • Brushing with too much force or with a hard-bristled toothbrush.
  •  Gum disease
  • Acid erosion from foods like sodas and sugary sports drinks.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).
  • Gum recession.
  • Dental treatments like teeth whitening, crowns, and fillings.
  • Broken, chipped or decayed teeth.

Managing Tooth Sensitivity 

Depending on the severity of the case, there are different treatments for tooth sensitivity. Mild sensitivity can be managed with desensitising toothpaste, alcohol-free and fluoridated mouthwash and other over-the-counter treatments. The use of soft-bristled toothbrushes and more gentle brushing can also help. Your dentist may also apply prescription-grade desensitising agents and fluoride gel to your teeth to help protect and strengthen their enamel.

For severe cases of sensitivity- especially those caused by underlying medical conditions, you will need to first get treatment for those conditions before managing the symptoms of the sensitivity. Receding gums can be treated with good oral hygiene and more gentle brushing, while GERD can be treated with acid reducers. You can also reduce teeth grinding by; reducing stress levels and caffeine, being conscious of the way you clench your teeth during the day and wearing a mouth guard at night.


Tooth sensitivity can be a serious issue that impacts simple day-to day-activities like biting, chewing and drinking. The pain from tooth sensitivity can range from mild and temporary to acute and lingering, and it can affect one or multiple teeth. Above are some of the common types of tooth sensitivity, their causes and what you can do to manage them.


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