The Two Ways that Sensodyne Toothpaste Reduces Tooth Sensitivity

The Two Ways that Sensodyne Toothpaste Reduces Tooth Sensitivity

Cold Sensitive Teeth
©Jan Mika/Shutterstock.com

Does the thought of eating ice cream or any cold foods make you cringe because you know how bad your teeth will hurt? You could be one of the millions of Americans that suffer from sensitive teeth. While the causes of sensitive teeth can vary, there are some toothpastes that can help alleviate the symptoms.

Ice Cream Sensitive TeethIf your teeth are sensitive and you don’t think that it is caused by reversible or irreversible pulpitis, then you may want to try a toothpaste that is made especially for sensitive teeth.

Toothpastes made for sensitive teeth usually contain two extra ingredients that help decrease painful tooth sensitivity.  These two extra ingredients are:

Potassium Nitrate and Strontium Chloride.

Both of these ingredients work by acting on the dentin tubules.  In order to understand how these ingredients work, I will first give a brief explanation of dentin tubules.

What Are Dentin Tubules?

The dentin tubules are tiny tubes that go from the outside of your teeth (when dentin is exposed to the outside surface, which usually happens with gum recession) to the dental pulp.  If the dentin tubules are openly exposed to the inside of your mouth, then it is easy for sensations to be transferred to the nerves in the dental pulp.

It is this transmission of various stimuli, such as heat, cold, and sweets, that cause the nerves to send the message of pain to your brain.  After all, the only sensation that the dental pulp can send to the brain is the sensation of pain.

Here’s a brief summary of how potassium nitrate and strontium chloride work.  You can find links to two informative animations that show how potassium nitrate and strontium chloride can help alleviate tooth sensitivity.

How Potassium Nitrate Decreases Tooth Sensitivity

Potassium nitrate decreases tooth sensitivity by entering into the dental tubules and making its way to the nerves of the dental pulp.   These potassium ions find their way tot he pulp where they block the transmission of pain to the brain.  While hot and cold would still cause the nerves to send a pain signal to the brain, the potassium ion interrupts the pain signal so that you don’t feel anything.

An added benefit of potassium nitrate is that it can build up in the dentin tubules.  By continuing to brush with sensitivity toothpaste, you can provide your dentin tubules with a large supply of potassium nitrate which will give you lasting relief from sensitivity.

Here’s an animation that illustrates how potassium nitrate works to decrease tooth sensitivity.

How Strontium Chloride Decreases Tooth Sensitivity

Strontium chloride works by blocking the dentin tubules.  The dentin tubules are very tiny holes that go to the dental pulp.  Strontium chloride simply covers up these holes.  Normally, the tubules are covered up by cementum on the tooth root or enamel on the tooth crown.  Strontium chloride simply returns the tubules to their natural “covered up” state.

If the dentin tubules are open, then it is easy for sensations to be transferred to the nerves in the dental pulp.  By closing the tubules with strontium chloride, you can eliminate tooth sensitivity by stopping the nerves of the dental pulp from receiving any painful stimulation.

Here is an animation showing how strontium chloride helps to reduce tooth sensitivity.

Does Sensitivity Toothpaste Work for You?

A few years ago, I had a tooth that was very sensitive.  I used Sensodyne for a couple of months, but the tooth only got more painful.  Since I had a dental checkup coming up, I waited until then to tell my dentist.  It turns out that the tooth had irreversible pulpitis, and I had to get a root canal treatment done on it.

What about you, have you tried sensitivity toothpaste?  Has it worked for you?  Let us know in the comments!

15 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this article! My teeth have been growing more and more sensitive over the last few years but at my last dental checkup the dentist informed me I have significant gum recession for my age, so this is probably to blame. I had thought that I would just have to deal with the sensitivity but it is so helpful to know that there are still things I can do to help. I didn’t know if Sensodyne or those other toothpastes really worked but it sounds like it is worth trying.

    • You can definitely give a toothpaste like Sensodyne a try. You should also talk with your dentist to try to determine the cause of your gum recession. It can be caused by bad fillings, brushing too hard, not brushing enough, genetics, teeth grinding (bruxism) and many other things — I’ll try to write an article about the various causes soon.

      Thanks for your comment, Meredith!

  2. Thanks for the article.

    Sensodyne works for me. Just had a filling put in and still get pain without brushing with Sensodyne so ill just continue with it. That leaves one question, which sensidine is the best for long term use and why? Sorry the type of person who like to know everything.

    • Hi Alex – Sensodyne can be helpful when you have receding gums and get sensitivity due to that. If you have pain from a recent filling, chances are that there is something going on with the nerve of the tooth and you should have your dentist take a look at it to make sure that everything is alright.

      Many of the dentists at my dental school actually recommend that you don’t use Sensodyne because it simply masks the problem. The best way to solve tooth sensitivity is to get the root of the problem taken care of so that you don’t have sensitive teeth. With that said, I don’t really have a recommendation for a sensitivity toothpaste. I believe that they all work about the same. Some brands may work better for certain people.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks for your comment, Alex!

    • I use Sensodyne and I brush my teeth normally for two- four minutes, using the toothpaste one time isn’t going to be that effective. Using the toothpaste twice a day for at least a couple days to a few weeks should do the trick.

      Hope this helped.
      Miller, Elizabeth

  3. I had a filling done a few months ago and ended up in pain. The bite was adjusted three times each time it improved. I really wanted it replaced but the dentist advised against it thinking it might further irritate it. I finally tried sensodyne and got relief. There is no apparent infection or anything on the xray. I’m worried if sensodyne is safe and if my dentist is any good. Any suggestions?

  4. When sensodyne is not working very well or any other brand of sensitivity tooth patients, soem dentist can offer you a fluoride varnish which can help to form a clear coating that stays on for 4 – 6 hours. In the meantime the coating is release fluoride which is an ion responsible for desensitizing teeth. This procedure sometimes is not done because it is an procedure that is not covered well by dental insurance. But I notice that when my patients experience cold senstivity, they are looking for answers are most are happy the pay the small fee that we charge to have fluoride varnish therapy as an adult.

  5. I tried Sensodyne for a while, and Sensodyne mouthwash. My dentist gave me a trial size tube of Colgate Sensitive pro relief. I had seen adverts on TV and was very skeptical, but it definitely helps. Sill get some sensitivity but it has definitely improved with the Colgate. One of her tips was to rinse with water not mouthwash straight after brushing as she said some mouthwashes would neutralize the effects of the toothpaste. I’m am in the UK so don’t know whether you get Colgate, but for me it’s been surprisingly effective and has improved things though not totally eliminated them.

  6. I had, for the first time today, a sensation, not really pain, in a molar next to where another molar was extracted years ago. I’d taken a big spoonful of hot grits and put it right on that area. I moved it away with my tongue and all sensation stopped immediately. Hot coffee doesn’t bother me. Ice cream or cold drinks (sweet tea) no problem! I’m wondering if the extraction area has allowed the dentin tubules to be a little exposed. I’m 64 and have lost 3 molars to the side effects of chemo and have no dental insurance at this time. LOW income.

  7. My daughter, who receives routine dental care was complaining of a couple of teeth being sensitive to cold. The dentist gave her a sample size unit of the Sensodyne. After using it for several days, she is reporting increased sensitivity involving most of her teeth. Some investigation on the web reveals that this is fairly common. Why does it increase sensitivity for some people?

  8. I have had trouble with my teeth being sensitive for a long time then i tried sensodyne but it wasn’t helping. I then seen a commercial for Sensodyne Pro Enamel and i have been using it since then, i will admit that i tried other brands but always went back to Sensodyne Pro Enamel

  9. I do have very sensitive teeth and tooth. Sensodyne is the best solution for me. Sensodyne daily care from chemist. Do not use sensodyne white from Woolworth or coles. That stuff didn’t work for me. But the sensodyne daily care works for me 100% . Thank God for that.

  10. My gum hurt as hell just below by the side mouth…a friend told me to use sensodyne but not sure if it’s the right thing to do.

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