The short answer is yes. Sensitive toothpastes can be a great way to get rid of that short, sharp, electric pain when you have something very cold or very hot.
I need to explain at the start that there isn’t a great deal of good evidence for how well they work. Most of the evidence that does exist has been done by the companies that make the toothpaste. This is like allowing a child to write their own school report. You may not be able to completely trust the results.
But I do believe that they can be really helpful for some people.
What causes tooth sensitivity?
We’ve gone through this in more detail in our article on sensitive teeth.
Most of your tooth is made of dentine. Dentine has lots of tubes that run from the outside of the tooth to the nerve in the middle. This isn’t normally a problem because the tubes are protected by a layer of hard enamel or a layer of gum. The dentine is covered and the nerve is safe and sound.
But if the enamel wears away or the gum shrinks, the sensitive dentine is exposed. If you have a cold ice cream, the cold travels down the tubes in the dentine. The cold reaches the nerve who’s not very happy and gives you a short, sharp shock.
How do sensitive toothpastes stop this?
Sensitive toothpastes used to be crammed full of potassium and salts that aimed to dull the feeling in the tooth’s nerve. This was supposed to act to numb the tooth. A few years ago, research showed that this was actually pretty useless. The salts weren’t doing anything. These sensitive toothpastes from 10 years ago didn’t really work.
Now toothpaste companies have worked this out and the current sensitive toothpastes seem to be much more effective.
The latest sensitive toothpastes work by building up a protective layer over the sensitive area. This insulates the nerve, preventing those nasty shocks.
It doesn’t work instantly. You usually need to use the sensitive toothpaste for a few days before the layer builds up. But lots of people find these modern toothpastes really helpful.
A word of warning
It’s fantastic to get rid of sensitivity. Sensitive teeth can really put you off your Mr Whippy.
However, tooth sensitivity can sometimes be the first sign of a problem. There could be tooth decay starting. Or a filling might be leaking.
Even if a sensitive toothpaste gets rid of your pain, it is worth mentioning it to your dentist. You don’t want the sensitive toothpaste to hide a problem that you don’t know about.
If you are not sure whether your pain is sensitivity or not, take a look at out toothache article. Here, we discuss all of the different pains that you can get in your mouth and what may be causing them.