Reasons for Sudden-Onset Teeth Sensitivity

Written by Josh Snow

January 06, 2021

If you have taken a drink of ice water and grimaced in pain … or

You only eat cold things on one side of your mouth … or 

Sugary food sitting on your teeth makes you cringe … 


Women frustrated studying at the table

You might have sensitive teeth.

If you have sensitive teeth, you probably already know it. They are a total nuisance. Going to the dentist for a hygienist cleaning quite literally sets your teeth on edge. 

That poor, innocent hygienist is just a cleanin’ away, diligently removing that nasty plaque and tartar that you’ve failed brush and floss away. Meanwhile, your hands are tightening their grip on the arms of the plastic-coated dental chair.

And she does it. She takes that silver instrument of evil and begins scraping away tartar, closer and closer to your sensitive area. You’re sweating now… 


pile of dental tools on a table


You know that scaler is going to touch that sensitive spot and send pain shooting through your tooth, deep down into your soul! And your posterior is going to involuntarily come up out of its restful position.

It’s a real thing. Sensitive teeth make dental visits very nerve-wracking. 

There are so many things that can lead to teeth sensitivity. For a lot of us, sensitivity develops or increases over time. We’re used to the cringing and know which surface areas of our teeth to avoid.

But sensitivity doesn’t always work like that. Many times, sensitivity strikes out of the blue and shocks the daylights out of you with its searing pain that shoots into your jaw and contorts your face.

“The American Academy of Endodontists (AAE) describes tooth sensitivity as a brief sensation caused by a stimulus, such as heat or cold, to exposed dentin, the layer beneath the hard, white enamel of the teeth. When dentin loses its protective covering, the nerves within the teeth lose their buffer.”

Snow Whitening Toothpaste

Living with tooth sensitivity is a fairly common fact of life for many people. It mainly seems to affect women and younger adults who have a receding gum line

There are several things that can cause tooth sensitivity, including various dental conditions. Most of these conditions involve losing the protective covering that surrounds the dentin. 

If you really want to deal with your sensitivity issue, you need to make a trip to the dentist and have an oral exam performed. Your dentist will also ask you several questions to help determine the reason behind your sudden flashes of tooth pain.

What is behind your sudden-onset tooth sensitivity?

Munching on Ice: Just stop the ice habit. It is a terribly destructive habit for your teeth. When you chew on ice, you run the risk of completely cracking a tooth in half. If you have a habit of chewing on ice, guess what? You’re wearing away the protective enamel on your teeth. No happy accidents are had by chewing on ice. 

Cavities: Even the tiniest amount of tooth decay means that your tooth enamel has been worn away. When enamel is worn away, the dentin is exposed and sensitivity occurs as a result. A filling or a crown may be your best option to stop the sensitivity and prevent it from spreading. 

Your Food Choices: If it’s not one thing, it’s your diet. The foods we eat affects so many things in our body and that includes our teeth. Acidic foods and drinks can harm the teeth. Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, juices, and sports drinks can each be conducive to tooth sensitivity. 

Dental Work: If you’ve had dental work done recently, you may have to deal with very sudden, albeit temporary, tooth sensitivity. Typically, most patients find that their sensitivity dissipates within about four weeks of their procedure. If the sensitivity persists longer than four weeks, make sure to let your dentist know what’s going on. 

Split Tooth: This particular sensitivity issue is exactly what it sounds like—an actual split tooth. If you bite down and experience a sudden, piercing pain that shoots through your tooth and possibly into your jaw, you may have a split tooth. When a split tooth is suspected, you need to go to the dentist as soon as possible.

Aggressive Tooth Brushing: Brushing your teeth with a hard-bristled toothbrush or in a harsh manner can contribute to your tooth sensitivity. By simply brushing your teeth with too much force, you can cause tooth sensitivity.

Tooth Whitening: You may experience sudden sensitivity right after you’ve had a whitening treatment. In addition to whitening treatments, sensitivity can also occur if you’ve used excessively strong whitening products or if you whiten your teeth on an overly frequent basis. Always remember to consult a professional and stick to the manufacturer’s instructions for every whitening product.

Chilly Temperatures: Have you ever inhaled sharply and had the air rush over your teeth when it is freezing outside? That simple little breath may have sent a sharp twinge of pain through one or more of your teeth. My friend, this is cold weather tooth sensitivity at its finest.

Tummy Trouble: Acid reflux is a condition in which the stomach produces too much acid and it pushes its way up the esophagus. The excess acid produced by acid reflux can wear away the surface of your teeth and cause sensitivity.

Eating Disorders: The eating disorder bulimia involves a person forcing herself to vomit on a regular basis as a means to control their calorie intake. Regular vomiting results in stomach acid washing over the surface of the teeth. The acid wears away the enamel and results in sensitivity.

Stress: Yep, stress. When we are stressed we often grind our teeth. Grinding our teeth wears away the enamel, which in turn leads to sensitivity.

Sinus Infection: Who knew that your nose could make your teeth hurt? Okay, that’s not exactly accurate. What happens is that your sinuses swell, causing pressure and inflammation. It is that pressure and inflammation which brings about pain in your teeth. If your teeth and head hurt when you lean over, then you might just have a sinus infection.

Gum Issues: Multiple things that cause your gums to recede can lead to sensitivity. Another lovely thing that happens to our bodies with age is receding gums. As gums pull away from the tooth, the dentin is exposed and voila! Tooth sensitivity happens. Welcome to life after forty, people.

Pregnancy: Alright, so the actual state of pregnancy does not make your teeth sensitive. However, all those crazy, overwhelming hormones absolutely affect your gums. That can lead to sensitivity. 

Sensitivity can affect one tooth or multiple teeth. Be sure to discuss any sensitivity issues with your dentist so that they might be handled and remedied. Consulting with your dentist should give you the most information on devising a treatment plan.

Let’s discuss this whole sensitivity issue a little further and what can be done about treating the different problems.

LED Electric Toothbrush

If you have sensitivity as a result of

Gum Disease

Then you probably have pain in multiple teeth. Gum disease occurs in two stages: gingivitis and periodontitis.

Gingivitis is stage one and is accompanied by red, swollen, or bleeding gums

Periodontitis is stage two and the gums have begun to pull away from the teeth. Signs of periodontitis include:

  • Sensitive teeth
  • Dental abscesses
  • Jaw or tooth pain
  • Nasty breath
  • Gum infections
  • Bone loss 
  • Bite change
  • Loose teeth

Treatment options for gingivitis are pretty basic. Just practice good oral hygiene and go to the dentist every six months to have your checkup and cleaning.

Treatment for periodontitis is more involved. Here are some options:

  • Have the tooth pulled
  • Gum surgery
  • Cleaning the root surfaces below the gumline
  • Antibiotics
  • Topical or oral medication

Thin or damaged tooth enamel 

Enamel is the protective external layer of the tooth. Within the tooth is a softer layer called dentin.

The dentin consists of little tubules. The tubules are connected to nerves inside each tooth. When the enamel is worn away those tubules are exposed which enables cold and heat to come in contact with the nerves. This leads to sensitivity or pain in your teeth.

Your dentist may encourage you to brush with toothpaste made specifically for sensitive teeth. Another possibility is that she applies a desensitizing agent or fluoride gel to those affected teeth.

Additional treatment may be required if the teeth have signs of decay. 

Abscesses or Cavities

Cavities are holes in the enamel of the teeth. If they are not treated, those cavities will more than likely grow and make their way further into the structure of the tooth. If this happens, then pain may extend into the surrounding teeth or even through the jaw.

Unfortunately, some cavities lead to an abscess. An abscess is like a tiny sack full of an infection that sits within the tooth or gums. Symptoms of abscesses may be:

  • Fever
  • Pain when biting or chewing
  • Inflamed gums
  • Severe or sudden pain in teeth, gums, or the jaw
  • Inflamed cheek or face

To take care of cavities, a little drilling and filling must happen. Your dentist will drill to remove the rotten area and fill the remaining hole to prevent further damage. Hopefully, it hasn’t advanced to the point of needing a root canal or extraction.

Antibiotics may be prescribed if a fever and inflammation are present due to the abscess. 


Bruxism is a little-known term for grinding your teeth. Anxiety and stress can cause a person to grind his or her teeth while sleeping. As we’ve stated, it wears down the enamel.

If you’re not sure that you are a grinder, check to see if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Distended jaw muscles
  • Face or neck muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Ear or jaw pain first thing in the morning

Your dentist may suggest that you wear a mouthguard while sleeping to keep your teeth from touching, thus preventing bruxism as you sleep. These are a few other solutions:

  • Massage
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga
  • Meditation or prayer


TMJ is otherwise known as temporomandibular joint syndrome. It is a musculoskeletal condition that affects the TMJ of the jaw. It joins the lower jaw directly to the skull.

People who suffer from TMJ syndrome may experience pain that radiates to their teeth.

The cause of TMJ syndrome affects the treatment plan. These are some possible treatment options:

  • Mouthguard
  • Cold pack or heat pack
  • Jaw exercises
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Surgery
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy
  • acupuncture

Crowded teeth and malocclusion

When your teeth are crowded they are pressing tightly against each other resulting in pain. Something you may not know is that crowded teeth can also cause jaw misalignment. This is known as malocclusion.

When your teeth are incredibly crowded inside the mouth, it produces pain and pressure. These sensations may happen in one spot or all over. It can even cause pain in every tooth.

You may also experience:

  • Pain from wisdom teeth emerging
  • Crooked teeth
  • Changes in your bite

Due to all the teeth being so close together, it creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. That leads to cavities and other oral health problems. To permanently fix it, the following may be encouraged:

  • Jaw surgery
  • Tooth extraction(s)
  • Braces or retainer


Man holding his hand over his forehead with eyes closed.



Sinusitis is exactly what it sounds like, inflamed sinuses. This condition can cause abrupt pressure and pain in your jaw which carries over to the teeth. You may also feel pain in these places:

  • Cheeks
  • Eye area
  • forehead

Sinusitis has other possible symptoms, such as:

  • Stinky breath
  • green or yellow nasal flow
  • A fever higher than 100.5

Quite often, sinusitis isn’t too serious and will get better within a few weeks. You can alleviate the symptoms by trying decongestants, anti-inflammatories, and warm compresses.

If you are not getting better or the pain is unbearable, go to the doctor. If a person finds themselves with bacterial sinusitis, you probably need prescription-strength antibiotics and/or corticosteroid nasal drops for inflammation.

Sudden-onset sensitivity can obviously happen for several reasons. Please do not self-diagnose. Call your dentist, make an appointment, and discuss your pain with a qualified professional.

Yes, you can try the at-home treatment. Warm compresses, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and rubbing on a numbing gel can provide temporary relief. However, these solutions are only a temporary fix.

You should really see a dentist if you are experiencing tooth pain and sensitivity. Don’t wait too long because small problems can become big issues.

Let’s wind this up on a positive note, shall we? There are some great products for people with sensitive teeth. Not all ways to whiten your teeth will irritate your sensitive teeth. The Snow Whitening System can give you white teeth without cringing. That’s good news!

Snow teeth whitening kit