What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

Dr. Mesa Roth

Hot coffee and cold ice cream should be a treat – not a reason to cringe with pain from your sensitive teeth. About 40 million adults suffer from tooth hypersensitivity, and endure sudden, often sharp pain, when they eat food with extreme temperatures.

We’ll get to causes in a moment, but most sensitive teeth suffer from weakened enamel, the hard, white layer of your teeth. Enamel protects the softer tissues inside teeth, known as dentin. When enamel doesn’t protect the dentin as it should, you’re going to experience periodic tooth pain. There are a lot of ways enamel can weaken or your dentin can become exposed:

  • Cracked Teeth: Fractured teeth fill with bacteria and plaque, which can cause inflammation in the underlying tissues.
  • Receding Gums: Tooth pain when eating hot or cold foods can be a sign of receding gums. Much like enamel, gum tissue protects dentin. When it recedes, it opens your dentin up to contact with food.
  • Brushing Too Hard: You can have too much of a good thing! If you’re brushing your teeth too vigorously or gripping your toothbrush too tightly, you may be damaging your enamel each time you brush. Don’t let that make you lay off your oral hygiene! Just dial it down a notch.
  • Diet: Even if you’re brushing after every meal, your diet can be damaging your enamel. Acidic foods like citrus fruit, tomatoes and tomato sauce, pickles and soda can cause pain if your dentin is exposed.
  • Grinding Teeth: About 10 percent of adults grind their teeth in their sleep. If you’re one of them, you can be wearing your enamel away night after night, and are at risk of problems like TMJ or sensitive teeth. A custom-fit nightguard can protect your pearly whites, while still being comfortable enough to breathe easily.

Because there are many possible roots to your sensitive teeth, you’ll need to visit a dentist to identify the cause of yours. In some cases, sensitive teeth can be treated with nightguards, fluoride mouthwashes or a change in your brushing technique. Other times, you may need work to care for receding gums or failing teeth. Whatever the treatment, next time you take a pain-free bite out of a popsicle or a spoonful of your favorite soup, you’ll be glad you did it.

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