Tooth Talk: Getting Sensitive?

Most adults would have experienced it at some point in their lives- that short, sharp stabbing pain in the mouth when you take cold, hot, sweet or sour food or brush your teeth.

Dentine hypersensitivity, more popularly known as sensitive teeth, is sometimes referred to as the ‘common cold in dentistry’ because it is among the most frequent oral complaint.

Globally, dentine hypersensitivity affects up to 57 percent of dental patients worldwide, while local studies show that up to 14% of Malaysians suffer from some degree of tooth sensitivity.

The prevalence seems to be increasing, especially among youngsters who consume a lot of soft drinks and acidic foods. The high sugar content in soft drinks erode the enamel layer of the teeth over time, slowly giving rise of tooth sensitivity.

Elderly people are also more prone to getting it, as they are now keeping their natural teeth for a longer time. More people are also using bleaching and tooth-whitening products for cosmetic reasons, which may cause tooth sensitivity later on.



Healthy dentine is covered by enamel above the gumline and by cementum below the gum line. Dentine has tiny openings called tubules. Inside each tubule lies a nerve branch that comes from the tooth’s pulp (the nerve centre of the tooth).

When the dentine is exposed, extreme temperature or pressure can affect these nerve branches. This causes hypersensitivity and pain when the nerves comes into contact with external stimuli such as cold water, sweet, sour, cold or hot foods.

Dentine exposure can be caused by various factors, such as over or under brushing, frequent exposure to acidic foods and use of hard-bristled toothbrushes.



Despite it being a common problem, many people do not seek treatment because they think the pain is temporary and will one day magically disappear. Some assume that dentine sensitivity is a normal part of ageing, whereas others just don’t talk about it, fearing that it indicates they have poor oral hygiene.

Most people simply change their lifestyle or adopt coping tactics to avoid the pain. These include avoiding sweet or sour foods, ice, ice-cream or using warm water when brushing their teeth.

Dentists warn that sensitive teeth, if left untreated, can lead to other oral problems such as the formation of plaque, gingivitis and periodontitis, even tooth loss in severe cases, because people tend to avoid brushing the sensitive areas, thus allowing bacteria to flourish there.

The good news is that sensitive teeth are treatable. Here’s what you can do to reduce your tooth sensitivity over time:

  1. Choose soft-bristled toothbrushes that won’t injure your enamel
  2. Learn proper tooth-brushing methods
  3. Avoid or reduce consumption of acidic foods and drinks
  4. Avoid bleaching or tooth whitening agents
  5. Ask your pharmacist for toothpaste that are specially designed for sensitive teeth
  6. Extreme cases will require invasive treatments such as root canal treatment or tooth restoration

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