McMahon Family Dental Blog

Your Feelings is Easy in the Dental Chair


Having a sensitive nature is a beautiful quality in a personality, but not so desirable in a dental chair. Tooth sensitivity, aka dentin hypersensitivity or root sensitivity, means that when exposed to temperature or acid, or even sweet foods, your teeth will hurt. A common condition shared by nearly half of the adult population, dental sensitivity can come or go.

The clinical explanation for tooth sensitivity is dentin exposure. Per Colgate, typically this occurs when gums recede or when the patient suffers from periodontal disease.  

Both gum recession and periodontal disease are prevalent in the adult population. A study in The Journal of Dental Research published in 2012 estimated that 47 percent of adults have some form of gum disease from mild to severe, and after age 65, that percentage jumps to 64 percent. Furthermore, most of the adult population (nearly 80 percent) 1 suffers from gum recession by age 65. [2] 

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Dentin is the part of your tooth just below the surface. Enamel or the hard layer on the outside of your tooth usually protects the dentin. When you wear down the enamel, you [3] expose the dentin which results in tooth sensitivity.

​Many things cause enamel wear. Abrasion to the enamel from brushing or aggressive toothpaste can erode the enamel. Grinding your teeth or allowing plaque to build up can cause tooth sensitivity. Diet can also wear down the enamel, particularly when you eat acidic foods like citrus or pickles or drink soda. Some eating and digestive disorders can also wear down the teeth by exposing the teeth to stomach acids regularly. [4]

1 Eke, P. I., et al. “Prevalence of Periodontitis in Adults in the United States: 2009 and 2010.” Journal of Dental Research, vol. 91, no. 10, Oct. 2012, pp. 914–920, doi:10.1177/0022034512457373. Accessed Via Web. 16 June 2019: 
“What is Tooth Sensitivity?”  Web. 12 June 2019.  
3 Szalay, Jessie. “Tooth Sensitivity: Causes, Remedies, & Treatment.” 20 April 2020. Web. 14 June 2019. 
4 Szalay, Jessie. “Tooth Sensitivity: Causes, Remedies, & Treatment.” 20 April 2020. Web. 14 June 2019. 

In the root area below the gums, the tooth does not have enamel protecting the dentin but instead has cementum, which is a thin, soft layer of tissue. When you suffer from gum recession, bacteria attacks the cementum layer, and the dentin below is vulnerable to sensitivity. [5] 

What Can You Do About Tooth Sensitivity?

If you find you are suffering from tooth sensitivity, talk to your dentist. Many times, your dentist can determine what is causing your sensitivity and suggest solutions. In some cases, it might require some dental work to fix a cracked tooth or an adjustment to a filling that is troubling you.

Also, be sure to communicate with your dental team that you have sensitivity when you are getting treatment. Your dentist has desensitizing agents that can help you feel comfortable. A desensitizing agent is used to close up the dentin tubules, which lead to the nerves that cause pain when in contact with stimuli.

Our desensitizing agent is Cervitec (from Ivoclar Vivadent), which contains chlorhexidine (.2%), fluoride (900 ppm), and provitamin D-Panthenol + xylitol. When applied on root exposure, Cervitec helps to protect against and minimize dental sensitivity. The agent also reduces harmful bacteria that settle and multiply along the gum line. When we reduce bacteria, we also reduce inflammation caused by oral health conditions like gingivitis, mucositis, denture stomatitis, periodontitis or peri-implantitis, which is essential not only to your oral health but also to your overall health.

Per the Mayo Clinic, your dentist might also suggest: [6] 

  • Using a desensitizing toothpaste: Available over the counter, desensitizing toothpaste can help eliminate the pain associated with dentin hypersensitivity. 

5 “What is Tooth Sensitivity?” Web. 12 June 2019. 
6 Salinas, DDS, Thomas J. “What causes sensitive teeth and how can I treat them?” Web. 14 June 2019. 

  • Taking fluoride treatments: Applying fluoride in-office or at home with a custom tray can help strengthen enamel, which helps protect the dentin tubules that are susceptible to sensitivity.
  • Adding a bonding agent: The dentist could apply a bonding resin to your sensitive teeth, offering additional protection against stimuli in the dentin.
  • Performing a gum graft: In this treatment, the gum tissue is taken from somewhere else in your oral cavity and added to the gum surrounding the exposed area of the tooth.
  • Having a root canal: By treating the decay that manifested inside of the tooth, you could eliminate the sensitivity at the outside of the tooth.

Some other at-home remedies include using a softer toothbrush, to avoid abrading the enamel too much, avoiding acidic foods, and using mouthwash with fluoride added to it. [7] Also, if the culprit for your sensitivity is bruxing, a clinical term for grinding your teeth, you might consider wearing a mouth guard at night to protect your enamel from further wear.

Tooth sensitivity is a common but painful condition that many patients have. Be sure that you talk to your dentist if you have tooth sensitivity so he or she can help you be more comfortable, both in and out of the dental chair. 

See what the team at McMahon Family Dental can do for you.

Since 1995, McMahon Family Dental provides innovative and superior dental care in a friendly, comfortable environment. For more information, call us at 616.457.2710 or contact us today.