Common causes and treatments for sensitive teeth

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If you’ve ever noticed sharp pain in your teeth when enjoying ice cream or a cold or hot beverage, you probably experience some degree of tooth sensitivity. When the temperature gets colder outside, even just breathing in frosty air can trigger that pain. According to research, 1 in every 2 adult Americans suffers from some kind of tooth sensitivity.

What are the most common causes of tooth sensitivity, and how can you help protect your teeth from discomfort?

Gum recession

There are several factors that can lead to gum recession — with one of the contributors being gingivitis. This can lead to gingival recession which, along with the loss of cementum, leads to exposure of dentin — which leads to dental sensitivity.

Products like Crest Gum and Sensitivity Toothpaste can also help treat gingivitis, which can ultimately lead to gum recession. Often when people experience tooth sensitivity they reduce or stop brushing their teeth regularly, which can just make the problem worse. Continue to practice good oral care and consult your dentist if pain around the gum line persists, since that could mean additional treatment for your gums is warranted.

Crest and Oral-B Smile Council member Kareen Wilson, RDH, says, "Even as a dental professional I have teeth sensitivity, so Crest Gum and Sensitivity is the product I use and recommend for fast and effective relief.

Enamel wear

The outer covering or shield of the tooth, known as enamel, can wear down over time as well as from acidic food and drinks. Weakened enamel and dentin can also mean exposing the microscopic tubules that lead to dental nerves, so that anything touching that area causes pain.

Many people who experience tooth sensitivity find themselves avoiding foods and drinks that trigger their pain, like acidic citrus fruits and juices or ice cold soda and hot coffee. People shouldn’t have to avoid their favorite foods and drinks in fear of the tooth sensitivity that can come with them.

You can help to safeguard your teeth from sensitivity by using a product like new Crest Gum and Sensitivity Toothpaste, which wraps teeth in a shield of protection, blocking tubules to provide all day protection. Most people notice a difference within three days, with twice daily brushing, and are able to get back to enjoying their favorite treats — with reduced sensitivity pain.

Tooth decay

If you are experiencing tooth decay, or cavities, those areas can be overly sensitive. Sometimes the areas around old fillings can accumulate bacteria, which leads to further tooth problems and sensitivity.

If tooth pain persists for more than a couple of days, especially when you are not eating or drinking hot or cold items, you should visit your dentist to be sure that you don't have a cavity that needs attention, or an old filling that might need to be replaced. Or you may even have a cracked tooth that needs to be seen by a dentist.

Dental procedures

For anyone who has undergone a recent dental procedure, whether a simple filling, crown placement or something more involved like a root canal, your teeth may experience sensitivity for some time afterward.

Ask your dentist what an expected time frame might be to expect sensitivity after a procedure, and what to watch for if that sensitivity doesn't go away. Persistent pain after a dental procedure could be a sign of infection.

Tooth grinding

Your dentist can examine your teeth for signs that you may be grinding them, as it can happen while you are asleep or otherwise unaware of what you're doing.

A mouth guard or other strategy may help resolve this issue.

Brushing too hard

Sometimes using a hard-bristled brush, or simply using too much force while brushing, can contribute to worn enamel, making tooth sensitivity worse.

It's best to continue to brush your teeth regularly, but consider using a soft-bristled toothbrush or electric toothbrush, and/or simply brush a little more gently. Your dentist may be able to recommend a better toothbrush for you to use.

While there can be many causes for your tooth sensitivity, there's no reason you can't enjoy cold or hot foods and beverages without those twinges of pain. With proper oral care practices, you should be able to reduce or resolve tooth sensitivity for good.

To see a short video with Wilson's recommendations about tooth sensitivity, visit lifeminute.tv/health/video/tooth-sensitivity-solutions.

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