Sensitive Teeth or Sensitive Gum?

Have you ever felt pain or discomfort after a bite of ice cream or a spoonful of hot soup? If so, you’re not alone. Many people have sensitive teeth or sensitive gum. Causes for sensitive teeth and gum vary greatly. Prevention and treatment approaches should be according to the underlying causes.

Woman suffering toothache because cold food

Common Causes for Sensitive Teeth

Common causes for sensitive teeth or gum

Gum Recession

Gum recedes (moves away from edge of the tooth) over time and with age. For people with gum disease (inflammation in the gum or periodontitis), the receding process can be accelerated. Brushing too hard or with too much force can also cause damage to the delicate gum tissue, and lead to them receding over time.

When gum recedes, the thinner outer area of the tooth (cementum) which is normally covered by gum is exposed. Since the nerves of the tooth (root canal) in cementum is closer to outside stimuli such as hot and cold food and drinks, people are more likely to feel sensitive.

Sometimes many teeth are affected by gum recession, sometimes only some teeth are affected.

Once gum recedes, it usually does not grow back naturally. You may have a couple options. Following our conservative philosophy, the least invasive approaches are below:


  • Find out what is causing gum recession and mitigate it: Treat gum disease or start brushing gently.
  • Avoid triggering stimulus: hot, cold, etc. Rinse your mouth with lukewarm water rather than ice cold tap water. Overtime your nerve in the tooth recedes as well to make your teeth less sensitive.
  • Try sensitivity toothpaste such as Sensodyne: The ingredients in sensitivity toothpaste can “clog” tubules (small pipes in the tooth) where nerve endings are projecting so you may feel relief. The “clogging” can happen at least several days after starting to use the toothpaste consistently and will wash away if not using it consistently.
  • Your dentist can use material to “clog” the tubules in the office. You would feel immediate relief. However, the effect may not last forever and it needs to be reapplied from time to time.

Image result for tooth sensitivity


  • Gum graft: Your dentist or periodontist (dental specialist in gum treatment) can do gum graft to cover the area.


Erosion, Attrition, Abfraction

A ditched triangular area on your tooth near gum due to exposure to acid, wear, or grinding may cause sensitivity. Approaches will be similar to the above except gum graft. You would do a tooth filling to restore the ditched area.


Broken filling, Tooth decay or Cracked tooth

When a previous filling is broken or there is a crack or tooth decay on a tooth, one may feel sensitivity as well. This case would be addressed by fixing the filling or crown.

It is important to get professional assessment (diagnosis) of your individual situation so you can address your tooth or gum sensitivity. Talk to your dentist. With proper diagnosis and treatment approaches, you should be able to enjoy ice cream without worrying about the “zing~~” of tooth sensitivity.