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Top Dentists Reveal How to Stop Sensitive Teeth Pain — Fast! 

Plus, how to hold an electric toothbrush to prevent overbrushing

If you’re one of the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from tooth sensitivity, you’ve probably wondered how to stop sensitive teeth pain immediately. Although symptom severity varies, tooth sensitivity can affect your eating habits, oral hygiene and quality of life, especially if it lasts more than a few days. The good news is there are plenty of ways to stop the pain from sensitive teeth in its tracks. Here’s everything you need to know.

What causes sensitive teeth?

Tooth sensitivity is typically caused by two things, says Kristy Gretzula, DDS, a New York University College of Dentistry trained dentist and the owner of Hawley Lane Dental: exposed dentin and gum recession.

Exposed dentin

“If your tooth enamel wears down, due to brushing too hard, eating acidic foods or grinding your teeth, the dentin (the softer, inner layer of the teeth) gets exposed,” Dr. Gretzula explains. “Dentin has tiny tubes that connect to the nerves inside the tooth, so when it’s exposed, temperature changes (hot and cold) or acidic foods can trigger pain.”

Gum recession

Gums hold our teeth in place and protect our tooth roots. “If the gums recede or pull away from the teeth due to gum disease or brushing too hard, the roots get exposed.” she says. Like exposed dentin, “these roots can be very sensitive to temperature changes and touch.” (Find out why your gums are receding and how to stop it.)

Why women are more likely to experience tooth sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity affects people of all backgrounds, but research suggests it’s more common in women. One study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that women were nearly twice as likely to have sensitive teeth than men.

Experts aren’t entirely sure why this is, but “it could be linked to hormonal changes, particularly during pregnancy and menopause,” says Joyce Kahng, DDS, a practicing dentist and former assistant clinical professor of restorative dentistry at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry. “Hormonal fluctuations can affect blood flow to the gums and increase the likelihood of experiencing tooth sensitivity.”

How to stop sensitive teeth pain immediately

While it’s hard to completely stop sensitive teeth pain immediately, you can ease discomfort quickly. The best way to manage tooth sensitivity depends on the underlying cause. In the meantime, several practices can help protect your roots and dentin and ensure your mouth stays pain-free.

1. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush and brush like this

Brushing your teeth twice daily for two minutes each session is an easy and effective way to reduce the risk of cavities and gum disease. If you use an electric toothbrush, even better, as it removes up to 70% more plaque. However, if you don’t use the proper technique, your brushing habits can damage your gums and tooth enamel.

One of the fastest and easiest ways to cut back on tooth sensitivity “is using a softer toothbrush and gentler brushing techniques,” Dr. Kahng says. “[Both] can minimize enamel wear” and gum damage.”

Specifically, look for a soft-bristle toothbrush. Soft bristle brushes are gentler on the gums and tooth enamel. That’s because their bristles aren’t packed as densely and bend easily, so you can access food particles and plaque without scrubbing furiously.

One to try: Colgate Extra Clean Toothbrush, Soft. Or, if you use an electric toothbrush: Tokident Ultra Soft Toothbrush Heads for Sensitive Teeth and Gums.​​

When it comes to brushing, the American Dental Association recommends holding your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and gently moving the brush back and forth in short, circular strokes. If you use an electric toothbrush, like a Philips Sonicare, try gripping the handle with your fingertips instead of your fist. ​​This reduces the amount of force applied to your teeth and gums and can even prevent enamel and tissue damage.

The video below illustrates the proper electric toothbrushing technique:

2. Sip with a straw AND cut back on acid

If you have sensitive teeth pain, you might assume drinking a hot cup of coffee or enjoying an ice cream cone is immediately out of the question. After all, these temperature extremes can irritate your tooth roots, causing the nerves inside your teeth to work overtime.

​​​But drinking hot and cold beverages with a straw can minimize the time your teeth are exposed to temperature fluctuations and instantly block sensitivity, says Fatima Khan, DMD, a practicing dentist and the founder of Riven Oral Care. Likewise, Dr. Khan recommends reducing your consumption of acidic foods (like tomato sauce) and acidic drinks (like soda and energy drinks), to prevent enamel erosion, and in turn, tooth sensitivity.

3. Ask your dentist about a night guard

Close up of dental night guard
Getty

Teeth grinding, or bruxism, is often associated with jaw pain, headaches and difficulty chewing, but it’s also been linked to tooth sensitivity. Research in The Journal of Craniomandibular & Sleep Practice concluded that folks who grind their teeth during sleep are also more likely to experience tooth hypersensitivity. That’s because teeth grinding wears down your enamel, similar to eating acidic foods. As more dentin is exposed, the risk of pain and sensitivity rises.

Bruxism can’t be cured, but a custom oral appliance, like a night guard, can prevent tooth damage from worsening. Night guards look like sports mouthguards, but the difference is that you wear them during sleep. The guard creates a protective barrier between your upper and lower teeth, preventing wear-and-tear and gum recession, which curbs your risk of pain from sensitive teeth.

4. Whiten this way

Did you know that 70% of people who use over-the-counter teeth whitening products are women? Even though we all want bright, Hollywood-worthy smiles, Dr. Khan says it’s best to minimize the use of OTC whitening strips when possible. You don’t need to avoid them altogether, but overusing them can erode your tooth enamel.

Crest 3DWhite Strips Sensitive are a good option [for folks with] sensitive teeth because the hydrogen peroxide concentration is only 5.25%,” Dr. Khan says. “I recommend trying this first to see if you can tolerate it and using a desensitizing toothpaste along with it.”

If you aren’t interested in whitening strips, there are other, safer ways to prevent yellowing and discoloration. Dr. Khan suggests buying toothpaste with baking soda as an ingredient. She says this is better than making your own toothpaste at home because it’s less abrasive.

“Check Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) when shopping for toothpaste,” Dr. Khan says. “This scale measures the abrasiveness of all major toothpaste brands. Most toothpastes have a rating of 250 and below. But for sensitive teeth, look for an RDA value of 70 or lower. This way, you can reap the benefits of baking soda while minimizing potential risks.”

5. Keep flossing to stop sensitive teeth pain

Remember how Dr. Gretzula said gum recession is a leading cause of tooth sensitivity? Keeping up with gum hygiene can make all the difference! Case in point: flossing daily. A study conducted by researchers at the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine found that people who practiced proper flossing techniques were significantly less likely to develop gum disease and experience severe side effects, like gum recession.

The video below can help you take your flossing technique to the next level:

The best toothpaste for sensitive teeth

Since the severity and frequency of tooth sensitivity varies, the experts we interviewed also recommend using toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth. “My number one recommendation is to use a toothpaste containing potassium nitrate,” says Holly Shaw, DMD, ​​ an assistant professor of dental medicine at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. “Potassium nitrate blocks sensory stimuli in the dentinal tubules (pores that run through the teeth), thus blocking the sensation of sensitivity.”

One to try: Sensodyne Pronamel for Sensitive Teeth

“Sensodyne is highly recommended for those with tooth sensitivity,” Dr. Kahng says. “The brand’s range of desensitizing toothpaste has been clinically proven to relieve sensitivity when used as directed. They contain potassium nitrate, which calms the nerves inside the tooth, providing long-lasting protection.” ​

Don’t be alarmed if your tooth sensitivity continues after you first start using the toothpaste. “The catch with sensitivity toothpastes is they often take a few weeks for patients to notice a difference,” Dr. Shaw says. “Also, upon halting use, the effects of the toothpaste wane.” Consider permanently switching to a desensitizing toothpaste to ensure lasting benefits.


For more tips on optimizing your oral health:

These Easy, Surprising Self-Care Tips Can Reverse Gum Disease, Say Dentists

Dentists Reveal How to Get Rid of Canker Sores Fast + What Remedies Actually Make Them Worse

Dentists Say These 6 Tips Help Stop Bleeding Gums Naturally

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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