How Does Sensodyne Toothpaste Work?

Sensodyne box
Sensodyne is an excellent way to treat sensitivity to hot and cold. But how does it work?
girl with black hair and pained expression holding onto her left cheek with her left hand, while she holds a popsicle with her right hand
Teeth “hypersensitivity” means your teeth are overly sensitive to things that should not bother them.

Approximately one out of every eight adults experiences tooth sensitivity.  Technically termed “dentinal hypersensitivity”, this condition leads to short, painful sensations in one or more teeth, usually caused by hot, cold or sweet stimuli.

This leads many to seek relief from their sensitivity in the toothpaste aisle at their local grocery or drugstores.  Sensodyne is the most popular anti-sensitivity toothpaste on the market in the U.S. today.  To understand how it works, we have to understand what causes tooth sensitivity in the first place.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

First, it is important to understand that tooth sensitivity can be a symptom of cavities in the teeth.  Sensitivity also results from cracks in teeth.  These types of tooth sensitivity require dental work to treat the cause of the sensitivity.  And that’s not the kind of sensitivity we are addressing with anti-sensitivity toothpastes.

The kind of tooth sensitivity this blog addresses is that which persists in the absence of any dental problems.  You have seen your dentist, and he or she confirms that you have no cavities or cracked teeth.  Yet your teeth are still sensitive to hot, cold or sweets.  This is why we call it “hypersensitivity”.  The teeth are overly sensitive to things that should not bother them.

Loss of Enamel

Eroded tooth with divots around it
If you lose enamel for any reason, the underlying dentin (the core substance of the tooth) becomes exposed.

Enamel functions to cover, protect and insulate the tooth.  If you lose enamel for any reason, the underlying dentin (the core substance of the tooth) becomes exposed.  Dentin is soft and porous.  It does not protect the inner nerve from the external environment.  Therefore, you can feel hot and cold, and even sweets, much more profoundly when enamel is missing.

You can lose enamel in a few ways:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Chipped teeth
  • Acid erosion (severe acid reflux or frequent vomiting)
  • Toothbrush abrasion (using a hard-bristled toothbrush and an abrasive toothpaste)

Loss of Gum Tissue

When gums recede, it exposes the roots of the teeth.  The roots do not have a protective enamel covering, so they lack the insulation from temperatures that the outer portion of the tooth has.  Gum recession also has a few different causes:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Bad positioning of the teeth
  • Improper brushing technique
  • Untreated gum disease

Irritation of Nerve

Another possible cause of hypersensitivity is irritation of the nerves within the inner chamber of the teeth.  In healthy teeth, with no loss of enamel and no gum recession, tooth sensitivity is more difficult to diagnose.  In most cases, we can trace it back to some type of irritation of the nerve inside the tooth.  The causes include:

  • Teeth clenching or grinding
  • Sinus pressure and/or inflammation
  • TMJ problems

How Does Sensodyne Fight Sensitivity?

Sensodyne earned its reputation as the go-to toothpaste for sensitivity because of the effectiveness of its active ingredients.  Sensodyne fights sensitivity via two mechanisms exhibited by each of its active ingredients.

Potassium Nitrate

Blue toothbrush with light blue toothpaste on it
Potassium nitrate is a salt that affects the nerve’s ability to send signals to the brain.

Potassium nitrate is a salt that affects the nerve’s ability to send signals to the brain.  It can penetrate the small pores in dentin and actually calm the nerve down.  This means that it is a great option for all of the various causes of tooth sensitivity listed in the previous section.

Potassium nitrate makes the nerve less sensitive.  It can take a while to work, so we recommend that you use a potassium nitrate regularly for at least two weeks to experience reduced sensitivity.

Sodium Fluoride or Stannous Fluoride

Sensodyne has various formulations of toothpaste for protecting your teeth against sensitivity.  These formulations will contain one of these fluoride ingredients, not both.

All fluoride compounds work to fight tooth sensitivity by blocking the tiny pores in dentin.  By plugging these microscopic holes, the sensations of hot, cold and sweets are unable to reach the nerve inside.

Stannous fluoride (the active ingredient in Sensodyne’s Rapid Relief, Repair & Protect, and Complete Protection) has an antibacterial action, killing bad bacteria in dental plaque.  It also may have a longer effect of tubule-blocking than sodium fluoride.

Do I Need to See a Dentist for Sensitive Teeth?

Women having teeth checked with flashlight at mouth
It is important to rule out cavities and cracks in the teeth as potential causes of sensitivity

Yes.

It is important to rule out cavities and cracks in the teeth as potential causes of sensitivity.  No amount of anti-sensitivity toothpaste will fix those problems.

You should also see a dentist if you have already tried Sensodyne or other anti-sensitivity toothpastes and still suffer from tooth sensitivity.  We have many other options to fight sensitivity, and we can assess your specific situation to figure out which one is best for you.

Do You Have Sensitive Teeth?

Don’t let tooth sensitivity keep you from enjoying the foods and drinks you love.  Call today to schedule a consultation with our doctors.