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  • Writer's pictureDr. Pearl E. Whites

Can Overusing Sensitivity Toothpaste Lead to a Resistance and Decreased Effectiveness?

Updated: Jun 2

Sensitivity toothpastes are highly effective in reducing shooting-tooth pain. However, can prolonged use diminish their effectiveness? Assuming your sensitivity is not from defects, plaque accumulation, or cavities, your teeth’s physiology has more to do with this sensitivity issue. Understanding these interactions helps address this question.


Anatomy of Sensitivity

Microscopic view inside a tooth to see dentinal tubules

Teeth microscopically are composed of millions of tiny tubes. When cold fluids enter these tubes, they pinch the nerves causing the extreme cold sensation. Two out of five people live with heightened teeth sensitivity to cold drinks, air, or touch. Many do not realize this discomfort can actually be fixed rather easily. Specific toothpaste ingredients act to eliminate sensitivity by numbing the nerves and sealing the tubules.


"Numbing" Ingredient

Potassium nitrate acts similarly like dental anesthetic as it also temporarily numbs the tooth's nerves. This minimizes pain signals to the brain thus reducing sensitivity. Since the FDA strictly regulates toothpastes, all "sensitivity" toothpastes containing potassium nitrate have the same concentration making them equally effective regardless of the brand or popularity.


Sealing Ingredient

Dentinal tubules before and after being clogged by stannous fluoride or hydroxyapatite

Both stannous fluoride and hydroxyapatite ingredients act as a sealer or plug that covers up the tubes preventing the assaulting cold from pinching the tooth's nerve.

View of dentinal tubules getting clogged from sensitivity toothpaste

Unfortunately stannous fluoride makes potassium nitrate unstable on the shelf so you will not find any toothpastes with both ingredients. However, hydroxyapatite has shown to be just as effective as stannous fluoride in plugging up those holes. Only 2 toothpastes in the U.S. market fit this criteria: Made By Dentists Rebuilding Toothpaste and Ollie Fresh Mint Toothpaste.


Does Sensitivity Toothpaste Lose its Effectiveness?

Sensitivity toothpaste does not work like medicine where resistance can develop from overuse. It is more akin to a lotion that wears off with time. You can safely use it either daily or for life. Prolonged use is recommended for those seeking chronic relief. You unlikely would develop a resistance or intolerance to sensitivity toothpaste and it usually does NOT lose its sustained effectiveness over time if used as directed.


How Long Does Sensitivity Toothpaste Last?

Beautiful girl drinking a cold beverage and not having sensitive teeth

The duration of sensitivity toothpaste varies per person. Stannous fluoride and hydroxyapatite can start working after a day of use while potassium nitrate can start working between three days to two weeks. Relief to some lasts up to 12 hours while weeks for others. The duration can potentially last up to eight weeks after use.


Recommendations From Convenient to Most Effective

If you feel the first step is not working, go to the next step:

  • Use Any "Sensitivity" Toothpaste Brand

    • Brush with toothpaste containing potassium nitrate (any toothpaste labeled "Sensitivity") like Sensodyne

    • Or try a toothpaste that contains stannous fluoride like Crest Pro Health

  • Combine Toothpastes Before Brushing

    • On your toothbrush, apply 1/2 pea-size of toothpaste containing stannous fluoride and another 1/2 pea-size containing potassium nitrate

    • Or brush morning and night alternating between the two types of toothpaste

Top 3 sensitive toothpaste Made By Dentists, Ollie, PreviDent 5000 Sensitive
  • Apply Fluoride Varnish

    • Request your dental hygienist apply this at every dental cleaning

    • Varnish is 22x stronger than regular toothpaste and lasts at least a month

Apply fluoride at every dental cleaning to reduce teeth sensitivity

By following these guidelines you can effectively manage tooth sensitivity without worrying about decreased effecitveness over time.


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