a young woman brushing her teeth, cinnamon toothpaste

Q. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with sensitive teeth? Anything cold is very painful.

The dentist says the nerve endings are exposed.

A. Dentists usually recommend toothpastes with potassium nitrate (such as Sensodyne, Aquafresh, Colgate Sensitive or Crest Sensitivity) to desensitize teeth. A review of the evidence by the impartial Cochrane Collaboration found, however, that there is not sufficient evidence to conclude that potassium nitrate is effective (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3). A study in Taiwan found that toothpaste containing potassium citrate reduced sensitivity reactions (Journal of Dental Sciences, Dec, 2009); as far as we can tell, this ingredient is not available in toothpaste in the U.S.

The American Dental Association warns against over-vigorous brushing that can expose sensitive dentine. It also suggests using desensitizing toothpaste, or if that is not sufficient, a dentist can apply fluoride gel or plastic sealer to protect the dentine.

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  1. Elvera L.

    Just thought folks should be aware of this.. I have what is called trigeminal neuropathy which is caused by a dentist’s error in giving me to much novacaine and it was toxic to the trigeminal nerve branch.. Therefore I now have EXTREME sensitive teeth.. I cant have fans on it is so sensitive.. the air flow when speaking triggers pain.. I wish I was exaggerating but I am not.. I need to be on medication now that is controlling the pain more.. Many people who have this, think it is a tooth sensitivity problem when it is actually a chronic nerve problem.. My condition is rare but not as rare as you think really. I have spoken with a lot of folks who have it..

  2. DM

    I just checked with Cochrane Collaboration – they say that any potassium based additive has not been proven to be effective in reducing sensitivity – but they stress the number of studies are limited.
    By the way, my dentist recently started me in Clinpro 5000 about a month ago and it is excellent – reduced sensitivity and also removes fluoride stains from past use of Gelkam, which uses an outdated fluoride technology apparently – it supposedly remineralizes the teeth and so have have no reason not to believe this.
    Frankly I’m still not clear if I should use this alone or if it is ok to use this with periodic potassium citrate (which Colgate now has for example) type of toothpaste – if both types combined help or if I should just stick to one – my tendency is to just stick with the ClinPro since it seems to be working so well
    that’s my two cents…

  3. PJM

    I have tried everything. Developed extremely sensitive teeth to cold 1.5 ago. NOTHING HAS HELPED! Sensodyne, Rx toothpaste, fluoride treatments, night clinching/grinding guard, at home fluoride gel treatments in dental trays, gluma varnish or in office fluoride treatment. I now am thinking it might be side effect of long term use of Horizant for Restless Legs Syndrome. Something has my teeth nerves fried. Can only drink room temp water no cokes, acid, carbonated drinks and now sugar is bothersome. Two dentists are baffled. Have great teeth only one and am told gums in good shape despite over brushing. Also have the squiggle?? toothpaste.

  4. Stephen V

    I had had sensitive teeth for several years. Even tap water bothered my teeth. This past summer I had some gout and started taking cherry extract daily. I recently realize my teeth are no longer sensitive!

  5. swg

    I also had this problem and finally realized it was from using the tartar control toothpastes…I now use Pronamel and have not had any problems since

  6. C.

    I’ve always used warm or hot water to brush my teeth. Although that is non-traditional, it feels great to me!
    For rmh: Please consider asking for help from a competent and compassionate respiratory therapist versus a CPAP equipment issuer. I have used a machine for about seven years and it has been life-changing. I had to learn to be my own advocate (in other words…get tough if need be) to find gear that works for me: size, fit, pressure-setting, headstraps, etc.
    If your mouth is open AT ALL during the night then basically the CPAP is only decorating your face. There are masks designed to cover your nose and mouth.
    If the insurance company balks, then have an MD (who is a sleep specialist) remind them that preventing sleep apnea is a cheap long-term investment.

  7. Larry

    I use Tooth Builder, Sensitive, toothpaste, floride free, made in USA by Squigle, Inc. It contains more natural XYLITOL-plaque and cavity fighter- than any other toothpaste. Some dentist carry this product.

  8. Marion

    After brushing, I dilute Listerine with water (1/2 and 1/2) and it seems to help my sensitive teeth.

  9. JIM

    I had sensitive teeth for quite awhile. I also had one tooth that was a real tooth ache. I started using hydrogen peroxide as a mouth wash in the morning and at bed time. The tooth ache went away after about 2 months. The sensitivity took about 6 months to go away. I can eat anything now with no problem. Peroxide also takes away bad morning breath. You can also gargle peroxide for a sore throat. caution – do not swallow it.

  10. H.-T. Amon

    My teeth become very sensitive after eating acidy fruits like grapes and citrus. I found out chewing on a calcium- citrate tablet and let the calcium go all over your mouth and teeth helps. It has worked for me since many years.

  11. LF

    I am a dental hygienist. I always recommend people not use tartar-control toothpaste or whitening toothpaste. A lot of people are sensitive to these kinds. If a sensitivity toothpaste doesn’t help, we dispense a concentrated fluoride toothpaste for home use (5000 ppm vs. the 1000 ppm you get in over-the-counter toothpaste). We also apply fluoride varnishes as needed.

  12. LF

    It mainly states that on the toothpaste so you won’t have a tooth problem that is going undiagnosed. A person could have something more serious like an abscess, which a sensitive toothpaste would not help.

  13. NBF

    Great comments!

  14. SKR

    My dentist told me to use salt and baking soda moistened with peroxide . This soothes and heals any problem with your gums. It doesn’t taste good so I started just dabbing my toothbrush into the salt and baking soda. My sensitive spots go away quick.

  15. CWT

    Rinse nightly with inexpensive ACT fluoride rinse (available at drugstores). When I don’t use it, my sensitivity comes back.

  16. Pat

    I have a friend that used one of the sensitivity toothpastes for years and developed a nitrate sensitivity. The instructions on the toothpaste tube says not to use it for more than 4 weeks without letting your dentist know. Just a FYI

  17. rmh

    Tooth sensitivity is a problem for me, because I sleep with a CPAP machine, but even tho I wear a BreathRite strip, I end up breathing thru my mouth, which dries–and sensitizes–my teeth. The only help the CPAP people gave was a strap to put around my head to keep my mouth shut. But is does not seem to work. Is there a mouthpiece, or something else, I could use? The Sensodyne type toothpastes seem to have no effect whatsoever. I will try the olive oil, and any other suggestions will be appreciated.

  18. JR

    I was originally introduced to toothpaste for sensitive teeth by my dentist. I noticed that I had one tooth that was sensitive to cold water when rinsing after brushing but did not attribute it to the toothpaste. I mentioned it to my dentist on two subsequent visits but he could not see anything in my x-rays that could be causing the problem. I wasn’t having any other problems so I just ignored it.
    Over time I started to notice that all of my teeth were becoming sensitive and I could no longer rinse with cold water after brushing. I was using Crest Sensitivity to brush and the problem got progressively worse and I dreaded brushing. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and I threw out the tube and started using an old favorite: Pepsodent that I found at my local Rite Aid.
    It costs $1 a tube and it is made in the USA. The sensitivity diminished within a few days and before long all of the sensitivity was gone including the tooth that was originally bothering me, a huge relief.

  19. jrc

    On my gums, I use lysine powder, which one can buy from any health food store or health food Internet site. I also swallow a bit of the lysine powder–not more than 1/8 tsp. Since I did this, no more sore gums. I have been using this method for at least 15 years. I have very sensitive teeth. After I tried several brands of toothpaste, I found that Squigle Enamel Saver works for me.

  20. Phoebe

    My dentist recommends and sells “Clinpro 5000”, a 3M Rx product, whose active ingredient is “Sodium Fluoride (5000 ppm F)1/1% w/w (0.63% w/v fluoride ion)”. Pricey, but this has worked very well for me.

  21. Cindy B.

    I can’t say enough for a drop or two of oil of oregano on a toothbrush daily after regular brushing for solving most teeth problems. I have cured sensitivity, infections and even an abscesses just using this O of O. Can be purchased at any natural food store. It comes diluted to about 50% with olive oil.

    • Inna

      Can you please email to me a source where you read about oregano oil for teeth problems. Your comment says you use it. Isn’t too oily mouth after the use? You leave it w/ out rinsing?

  22. Jenny

    You might also try Tom’s toothpaste. My daughter says that helps her and she thinks it’s because the Tom’s toothpaste is cloudier free. My teeth were sensitive until I switched to a toothbrush with rubber gum massagers surrounding the bristles. I accidentally bought a regular toothbrush, my teeth started hurting again, I switched back and within a few days my teeth quit hurting.

  23. DrH

    An old Italian dentist once told me that he recommended warm olive oil as a remedy to relieve sensitivity. Taking several drops and allowing to warm in the palm of one’s hand, apply to the affected area with finger or cotton tip. The viscosity of the oil may temporarily seal sensitive areas. For those who object to chemicals, this may provide relief, but will probably require reapplications.

  24. DAM

    It works very well for me (Potassium Nitrate).

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