Brushing Too Hard Causes Sensitive Teeth

Dentists in Survey Say Acidic Foods and Drinks Also Lead to Sensitive Teeth

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on November 10, 2009
From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 10, 2009 -- Brushing your teeth too hard and consumption of acidic food and beverages are the leading contributors of sensitive teeth, according to a nationwide survey of dentists.

One-third of 700 dentists surveyed by the Academy of General Dentistry say acidic foods and beverages are the most common contributors to tooth sensitivity, followed by toothbrushing technique.

Sensitive teeth is a condition that's a result of nerve irritation in the tooth. It's characterized by discomfort or sharp and sudden pain in one or more teeth and is often set off by hot or cold foods or drinks, breathing in cold air, or pressure on the teeth. The condition affects at least 40 million American adults, according to the Academy of General Dentistry.

Van B. Hayward, DMD, professor in the department of oral rehabilitation in the School of Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia, says aggressive toothbrushing and consumption of acidic substances can wear down the enamel on teeth and also affect the gums.

"When the protective layer of enamel erodes or gum lines recede, a softer tissue in your teeth called dentin can be left exposed," Hayward says in a news release. "Dentin connects to the tooth's inner nerve center, so when it is unprotected, the nerve center can be left unshielded and vulnerable to sensations, including pain."

The survey also showed that dentists say that certain toothpastes, mouthwashes, tooth-whitening products, broken or cracked teeth, bulimia, and acid reflux also contribute to enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity.

The Academy of General Dentistry recommends the following steps be taken to alleviate sensitive teeth:

  • Switch to a desensitizing toothpaste.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  • Practice good oral hygiene, which means flossing regularly and brushing at least twice a day for two or three minutes.
  • Hold your toothbrush at a 45-degree angle, brush gently in a circular motion, and hold the toothbrush in your fingertips -- not in the palm of your hand.
  • Avoid acidic foods and drinks (like soft drinks and citrus foods).

Show Sources


News release, Academy of General Dentistry.

2009 Hypersensitivity Survey.

Academy of General Dentistry web site: "Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?"

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