Do cold foods make your teeth feel like a hot mess? Do hot foods give your teeth the chills? You’re not alone. Read on for some tips to keep your mouth (and you) happy.

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem, but you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are many treatments available that can have you enjoying your favorite foods again in no time.

Tooth sensitivity can have many causes including:

  • Enamel loss along the gum line – Clenching, grinding, and brushing too hard or with a hard-bristled toothbrush can cause the thin enamel along the gum line to wear away. Under the tooth enamel lies a layer of dentin. Dentin’s composition is much like our bones, hard, yet porous. It is made of tiny tubules which act as pathways to the pulp and nerve of our teeth. When exposed, they send signals to the nerve in the form of pain to let you know that the protective enamel is no longer there.
  • Tooth decay – A small cavity in the enamel of a tooth is generally an easy fix, but if left to grow, it can cause excruciating pain. Once the decay has eaten away at the enamel into the dentin, it can cause pain. If ignored, it can reach the pulp chamber, or nerve of the tooth, resulting in a constant ache made worse but sudden changes in temperature from food or drink.
  • Fractured teeth/worn or missing fillings – A broken tooth, or worn broken fillings allow liquids, saliva, and food to seep into the crack or hole in your tooth causing discomfort. Even a small fracture can cause a lot of pain.
  • Gum disease – Periodontal disease causes the gums to shrink back, exposing a protective layer called cementum that covers the root of your tooth. The roots of our teeth are much softer than the enamel that protects the tops of our teeth and are much more susceptible to decay. When gum disease is present, the gums recede exposing this sensitive area that can cause extreme sensitivity even when breathing cold air.
  • Neglect and lack of professional checkups – Neglecting your oral hygiene routine and not seeing a dental professional for regular cleanings and exams can also cause tooth sensitivity. When you don’t brush well or at all, plaque builds up on your teeth and hardens, turning into calculus, also called tartar. Once this happens, no homecare routine can remove it. Gum tissue doesn’t like calculus and can’t “breathe,” so it shrinks away from the root of the tooth not only exposing the root to sensitivity but kicking off the cycle of gum disease.

Fortunately, there are also many ways to treat tooth sensitivity that are quick, painless, and cost-effective. Depending on the level of sensitivity and the cause, your dentist may recommend desensitizing toothpaste or fluoride gel as a first step to help ease the pain. There are many on the market today with varying strengths from over-the-counter to those that need a prescription. If the cause is due to clenching or grinding, you may need to wear an appliance at night to prevent further damage to your teeth. Sometimes, more intensive procedures are necessary to alleviate sensitivity. Root canals, gum grafts or a crown may be needed to fix the problem.

In some cases, tooth sensitivity can be avoided altogether by using the softest toothbrush recommended by your dentist. Gentle brushing (not scrubbing), flossing regularly and seeing your hygienist and dentist at least every six months are also recommended. By working together with your dental professionals, your mouth can be pain-free and can keep you smiling for years to come.

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