Everything seems fine at the dinner table, and then you take a sip of a hot or cold drink. Suddenly, a sharp pain shoots through your tooth. If you're wondering what hit you, your dentist has the final word, but there's a good chance you've got sensitive teeth.

Several things can bring it on. Besides hot and cold drinks, your tooth might hurt if you eat or drink something sweet or sour. Sometimes, cold air can set it off.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

You get it when your gums pull back and expose the surface beneath, called the dentin. This soft layer has thousands of tiny tubes that lead to the tooth's nerve center (the pulp). They allow the hot, cold, or sweet food to reach the nerve in your tooth, which kicks off your pain.

Other things that can cause you to have sensitive teeth are:

  • Wear and tear. Over time, if you brush too hard, use a hard-bristled toothbrush, or grind your teeth, you can wear down enamel and expose the dentin.
  • Tooth decay. This can lead to sensitive teeth.
  • Gum disease (gingivitis). It causes inflamed and sore gums that pull back and reveal the roots of your teeth.
  • Damage. Chipped or broken teeth may expose sensitive tissues underneath. They can also fill with bacteria, which can enter the pulp and set off inflammation.
  • Teeth grinding. If you do this or clench your teeth, you may wear down your enamel.
  • Age. Your teeth are most sensitive when you're between 25 and 30.
  • Plaque buildup. It can cause sensitivity when it's on the surfaces of your roots.
  • Acidic foods. Food and drinks with a high acid content, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, pickles, and tea, can wear down your enamel.
  • Dental work. Teeth cleaning, root planing, crown placement, and tooth restoration can make your teeth sensitive. This should go away in 4 to 6 weeks.

Ways for You to Control Sensitive Teeth: 

  • Brush, floss, and rinse regularly. Use the right technique to thoroughly clean all parts of your teeth and mouth. Rinse with a fluoride and antiseptic mouthwash every day.
  • Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Brush gently and carefully around the gumline so you don't remove gum tissue.
  • Use a toothpaste for sensitive teeth. There are several brands to choose from. When you do this regularly, it should make your teeth less sensitive. You can also spread a thin layer on your exposed tooth roots with your finger or a cotton swab before you go to bed. Use a fluoridated toothpaste, not a tartar control one.
  • Use a mouth guard if you grind your teeth. You may not realize you have this overnight habit. If you've been told you do this, a mouth guard can protect them.
  • See your dentist. Do this every 6 months or sooner, depending on your condition.

If you still have discomfort, talk to your dentist. There may be a procedure that can help. He might recommend white fillings to cover the exposed root surfaces. Or he may suggest fluoride varnishes or dentin sealers that are put on the root surfaces.


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