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Tooth sensitive to pressure? Here's why

You shouldn't have to summon all your courage to bite into breakfast. Read what our clinicians have to say about teeth that are sensitive to pressure.

Teeth that are sensitive to pressure are super common. More than 50% of US adults experience pain while biting down each year. Let's dig into the most common causes of teeth that are sensitive to pressure.

Tooth hurts with pressure - The causes

Enamel hypersensitivity is the most common reason that teeth hurt under light pressure or lots of pressure. Enamel hypersensitivity is caused when your dentin - the layer of tooth beneath your enamel, is exposed. The soft and sponge-like dentin surrounds the sensitive pulp of your tooth. When this happens, biting down stimulates the nerves and triggers a painful response

There are lots of factors that make your tooth feel the pain under pressure:

  • Tooth decay - Tooth decay means you have a hole in your tooth, also known as a cavity. Small cavities are often sensitive to hot, cold, and sweets, a signal that your dentin is exposed. Some cavities are extremely sensitive to pressure. 
  • Cracked tooth - No matter how it happens, a cracked tooth is often sensitive to pressure. When your tooth is cracked sensitivity comes from (a) your dentin being directly exposed by the crack, or (b) the sharp pieces of your enamel around the cracked area pushing into your dentin when you bite. Ouch.
  • Damaged or loose filling - If the seal between your tooth and the filling is loose or gets damaged, bacteria can sneak its way under the filling and into the soft, sensitive area of your tooth. This bacteria can infect the sensitive pulp causing extreme pain.
  • Infection - A tooth infection (known as an "abscess") is caused by bacteria that find their way into the tooth, or surrounding gum and bone.
  • Loose tooth - If your tooth is loose, that means the tiny ligaments that keep your tooth in place are overstretched. It's like hyperextending your elbow or knee. Loose teeth can come from infection, bone loss, or getting hit in the mouth. If your tooth is loose, your dentist might recommend a splint. The splint anchors your loose tooth to nearby, stable teeth to prevent the tooth from moving around.

The only way to know the cause of your sensitivity to pressure is to talk with your dentist. Your dentist will take a close look at the surface of your tooth as well as an x-ray to pinpoint the exact cause.

Crown sensitive to pressure

Sensitivity right after your crown is placed is normal. After two weeks the sensitivity should wear away and your crown will feel as normal as a regular tooth.

If it's been a while since you got your crown and your crown feels sensitive to pressure, that means something is not quite right with your tooth or the surrounding tissues. It's possible for the tooth under your crown to develop a crack, especially in the root where there isn't as much support to stabilize the tooth.

Just like with your regular teeth, pressure will hurt when applied to the tooth with a crown when bacteria finds its way into the crack or when the pieces of tooth move independently. If your teeth are cracked under the crown, the most common feeling is a sharp, painful feeling when you bite down, or when you release pressure off the tooth.

"Teeth hurt when I bit down!" Here's what to do

Stop googling. Call your dentist. This isn't a situation where more pain means more gain. 

"It is critical to see your dentist as soon as you feel any pain from pressure," explains Dr. Kevin Walker, DDS. "Most likely, that pain is your body signaling that something is wrong. Whether it's a cracked tooth, infection, or cavity it is best to take care of it early to prevent it from getting worse." 

Is there any chance that the pain might resolve on its own? "If you're experiencing significant pain when you bite down, it is unlikely the issue will resolve on its own," cautions Dr. Walker. "If severe tooth pain suddenly stops, that's a sign to call your dentist. Pain that suddenly disappears doesn't mean the problem is solved, it is more likely that the nerves have been damaged and you can't feel the pain anymore." 

Serious infections can permanently damage the tooth, gums, and bone. If the damage is severe there won't be enough of the tooth left to support a filling, which in the worst case can lead to an extraction and implant.

If you're feeling pain or sensitivity, be sure to continue your oral hygiene routine to keep the tooth and surrounding area as clean as possible.

What your dentist will do

The right course of action will depend on what's causing the sensitivity in your tooth. Your dentist might recommend one or more of the following treatments.

  • Antibiotics
  • Filling in a cavity
  • Root canal 
  • Crown
  • Tooth extraction
  • Bone grafting

Whatever treatments you move forward with, you should feel comfortable taking the path recommended by your dentist. It's always a great idea to get a second unbiased opinion, especially if your dentist recommends a complex or pricey treatment. There are often multiple ways to get to the same outcome. The right approach takes into account the cause of the pain, your budget, and your circumstances. 

Want to learn more about tooth sensitivity? Check out "Tooth sensitivity: your ultimate guide" for everything you need to know from what causes sensitivity, and what you can do about it.

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