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How does sensitivity toothpaste work?

Do you avoid eating ice cream on hot summer days? Does hot coffee or tea make you wince? If so, you likely have sensitive teeth. Fortunately, the problem has an easy fix: sensitivity toothpaste. Read on for details.

What is a sensitive tooth, anyway?
When you have sensitive teeth, activities such as brushing or eating certain foods can cause a cause sharp pain in your teeth. The pain doesn’t usually last long, but it’s still a bother.

What makes teeth sensitive?
If grind your teeth or brush them too vigorously, your enamel may wear down, exposing the softer material underneath. Called dentin, this material contains tiny tubules that connect to your dental nerves (where the “ouch” comes from). Receding gums can also expose the dentin.
The list of culprits goes on: eating a lot of acidic foods, too much plaque, chipped or cracked teeth, decay around the edges of a filling, and dental procedures such as extractions or crowns. Finally, some people are sensitive to the chemicals in mouthwash or whitening toothpastes.

How do I deal with my sensitive teeth?
For starters, ask your dentist to investigate. If the sensitivity comes from a cavity or crack in your tooth, filling in the gap usually solves the problem. Otherwise, your dentist will likely recommend a sensitivity toothpaste (sometimes called desensitizing toothpaste).

How does a sensitivity toothpaste work?
Sensitivity toothpaste contains ingredients that seal up the tubules in your dentin—think of it as insulating your tooth in a blanket. Over time, the toothpaste can help block pain from sensitive teeth. Give it at least four weeks to notice a difference.

How do I choose a brand?
Go to the Canadian Dental Association website ( and look on the Seal of Recognition page for a list of recommended sensitivity toothpastes and other products.

Anything else I can do?
Fluoride rinses or gels can help harden your tooth enamel. For extra protection, your dentist can apply a fluoride varnish in the office every few months. If you’re a night-time tooth grinder—something a spouse or partner may notice before you do—a customized night-guard can protect your teeth while you sleep. If the sensitivity persists, your dentist can apply a layer of resin on top of the sensitive area in a procedure called bonding. And if all else fails, a root canal will almost certainly do the trick.

1. Ontario Dental Associaition, tooth sensitivity:
2. Everyday health, causes of sensitive teeth:
3. Mayo Clinic, causes of sensitive teeth:
4. Family Dental Centre, choosing the right toothpaste: