Dentine hypersensitivity: Causes and mechanisms

Scanning electron microscope image of exposed dentine tubules

What causes dentine hypersensitivity?

The hydrodynamic theory of dentine hypersensitivity

Brännström’s hydrodynamic theory is currently the most commonly accepted theory of how dentine hypersensitivity arises:1–4

  • Dentine hypersensitivity arises when tubules found within dentine become exposed, most commonly caused by gingival recession or enamel wear
  • Once exposed, these tubules may come into contact with stimuli, which can induce the movement of fluid within the tubules
  • Such movement within the pulp may induce a short, sharp sensation
  • Dentine exposure

    Causes of exposed dentine

    How dentine tubules become exposed

    Dentine tubules become exposed by gingival recession, due to:3,5

    • Periodontal diseases
    • An over-vigorous brushing technique

    Enamel wear exposes dentine tubules through one or more of the following:6

    • Erosion, commonly caused by acids or oesophageal reflux
    • Abrasion, i.e. enamel and dentine loss from excessive toothbrushing and/or other habits
    • Attrition (rarely), brought about by tooth grinding
  • Triggers

    Dentine hypersensitivity triggers

    Exposure of dentine tubules allows fluids within the tubules to move, which can be triggered by multiple types of stimuli.3,4

    Cold water; hot coffee

    1. Thermal stimuli

    Cold (more likely), hot

    Toothbrush with paste

    2. Tactile stimuli



    3. Osmotic stimuli

    Sugary foods and drinks

  • Hydrodynamic theory

    Tooth cross section

    Hydrodynamic theory

    It is theorised that the rapid movement of fluid within dentine tubules caused by external stimuli can trigger the tooth sensitivity.4

Sensodyne is #1 Sensitivity Toothpaste in Malaysia.*

*Based on Retail Audit Service for the Sensitive segment within the Toothpaste category for the 12 months ending February 2021 in Total Malaysia. (Copyright © 2021, The Nielsen Company (M) Sdn Bhd)

Family Icon

Impact on quality of life

Find out about the impact dentine hypersensitivity has on daily lives.

Find out more

Tooth with magnifying glass icon


Explore an overview of diagnosing dentine hypersensitivity.

Find out more

Dentist Icon


Explore an overview of dentine hypersensitivity management.

Find out more

Tooth Icon

Dentine hypersensitivity

Find out more about dentine hypersensitivity.

Find out more

Sensodyne logo

The Sensodyne range

Find out how the Sensodyne range can help on dentine hypersensitivity.

Find out more

Patient resources icon

Patient care resources

Download resources for your patients.

Find out more