Discovering new treatments for sensitive teeth: The long path from biology to therapy

K. Markowitz, David Henry Pashley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


Tooth sensitivity is a common dental pain condition where sufferers experience brief episodes of sharp well-localized pain when their teeth are subjected innocuous stimuli such as cold, air-currents and probing with a metallic instrument. In this review, we will make no attempt to describe all the treatments that have been developed to treat tooth sensitivity. We will review the basic anatomic and physiological mechanisms responsible for sensitivity. The insights into the dental lesions responsible for tooth sensitivity, as well as the physiological processes linking stimuli and pain generation have suggested several treatments and preventive strategies. Unfortunately, many tooth sensitivity treatments fail to perform better than placebos in clinical trials that seek to assess the effect of agents on pain symptoms. In the case of the most commonly used self-applied desensitizing agent, potassium salts, the mechanism of action established by laboratory and animal models may not apply to clinical use. Thus results obtained with laboratory and animal models must be applied with care to clinical use. Clinical literature suggests that tooth sensitivity is the symptomatic manifestation of significant dental problems, such as wear and other forms of non-carious tooth structure loss. These conditions are increasing in frequency as people age, retaining their natural teeth longer. They are frequently the consequences of aggressive oral hygiene practices and diets rich in acids. Treatments directed at the underlying causes rather than the symptoms of tooth sensitivity would hinder the development of these lesions and provide researchers with objective targets for assessing therapeutic efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)300-315
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Oral Rehabilitation
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


  • Dentin
  • Intradental nerves
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Treatments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dentistry(all)


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