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How to treat your sensitive teeth

By, Dr Rakesh Jivan

Does the thought of biting into an ice-cream make you wince?

A young woman wearing a Hijab and her friend eat ice cream cones
A young woman wearing a Hijab and her friend eat ice cream cones

Does the thought of biting into an ice-cream make you wince? Do you avoid eating hot or cold foods? Have you found yourself only eating on one side of your mouth? Chances are, you have sensitive teeth.

But how do you know if you have sensitive teeth or if it’s something more serious?

You may have sensitive teeth if you experience a short, sharp pain in one or more teeth when you eat or drink something hot or cold. Pain from tooth decay tends to be more of a constant, dull ache.

Related: Why do my teeth hurt? 10 reasons why

8 of the most common causes of tooth sensitivity

1. Worn tooth enamel

This is often caused by using a hard-bristled toothbrush and brushing forcefully.

2. Tooth erosion

Eating or drinking acidic foods and drinks can result in damage to the protective enamel on the teeth.

3. Tooth decay or infection

Bacteria and acid can cause a cavity to form in the tooth enamel. In more serious cases, an abscess can form as the result of a bacterial infection.

4. Tooth grinding

Those suffering from this condition may not even know it, as it often happens at night. Symptoms include jaw pain and headaches, with worn down, sensitive teeth often resulting.

5. Gum recession

One of the leading causes of tooth sensitivity; this occurs when the sensitive portion of the tooth below the gum margin is exposed.

6. Tooth decay

Worn-down fillings or crowns can leave the sensitive part of the tooth (dentine) exposed. If this is the case, you’ll often only feel sensitivity in one tooth or region of the mouth.

7. Post dental treatment

It’s normal to feel tooth sensitivity for a day or two following dental work.

8. Tooth whitening (bleaching)

Sensitivity can occur after a tooth whitening procedure, but this will generally settle once the bleaching has stopped.

Related: 7 ways to overcome a fear of the dentist

Credit: nib health insurance

What are the treatments for sensitive teeth?

If you’re struggling with sensitive teeth, book an appointment with a dentist who will help work out the cause and the correct treatment plan.

Depending on the cause, your dentist is likely to recommend any of the following:

A thorough clean and scale

If plaque is present, your teeth will need a good clean. Fluoride treatments will often follow to help prevent further tooth decay and rebuild tooth enamel.

A filling

If decay is present, you may need a filling. Depending on the extent of the damage, a root canal or other restorative procedure may be required, which is why early intervention is key.

Desensitising toothpaste

There are toothpastes specially formulated to reduce discomfort and pain from tooth sensitivity. Your dentist can recommend one that would be most suitable for you.

Avoiding ‘triggers’

Your dentist might recommend that you avoid certain foods, such as hot, cold, sweet or acidic food and drinks, to give your teeth time to respond to treatment and become less sensitive.

Related: What to expect from my first dentist appointment

Ready to book an appointment with a dentist?

Start with your local nib Dental Care Centre which has 11 locations across NSW, ACT, VIC and QLD.

Alternatively, search for a dentist near you through nib's First Choice Network. This is a community of health providers who’ve agreed to provide nib members with quality healthcare. We recommend you and your family visit your dentist every six months for a check-up and more regularly if you have a concern.

At nib, we offer a range of Extras covers that include benefits for dental care. If you’re already an nib member, you can check your current policy using member account. Alternatively, you can get a quote online in just minutes.

Dr Rakesh Jivan

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Dr Rakesh Jivan smiling


Dr Rakesh Jivan

Dr Rakesh Jivan is a general dental practitioner with close to two decades of clinical experience in private practice. He is the clinical director for education at Pacific Smiles Group responsible for practitioner support and continuing professional development for all practitioners working from Pacific Smiles Dental & nib Dental Care Centres in NSW, VIC, QLD & the ACT.