Ouch! Why are my teeth sensitive?!

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Picture this: It’s summertime. You hold in your hand a double scoop (insert favorite flavor here) of cold, creamy ice cream on a blistering-hot Texas day. You are anticipating nothing but pure icy delight, but when you bite into your frozen treat, you feel a zing of pain instead. Ouch!

Does this sound familiar?

Tooth sensitivity is a common complaint for many people. There are several reasons why your teeth may be sensitive.

You don’t necessarily need to be alarmed by this uncomfortable symptom. Sensitivity to temperature, whether hot or cold, does not always equal tooth decay. Sensitivity can also happen because of worn enamel, fractured teeth, exposed roots, or could be hinting at gum disease.

Consider your tooth enamel as the winter jacket for your tooth’s nerve. If your enamel gets worn by clenching, grinding, or acid erosion, then your dentin is exposed. Think of your dentin as the long johns under your winter clothes. Just as long johns have pretty direct contact to your skin, your dentin has direct contact with your nerve. When your enamel is worn, your nerve can more easily access the environment, which causes sensitivity. Below the gum line, this winter jacket is called cementum. When you have gum recession or gum disease, the cementum can wear down as well.


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There are treatments for sensitive teeth, but treatment varies on your specific sensitivity. Some treatments include:

• Fluoride toothpastes, varnishes or gels to strengthen your tooth enamel
• Soft bristled toothbrush or an electric toothbrush if it appears your enamel is worn down from aggressive brushing
• Desensitizing toothpastes to help block signals to your nerve
• Crown or filling if the sensitivity is from tooth decay
• Root canal if sensitivity is extremely severe

Visit your dentist to determine the best way to address your tooth sensitivity, so you can get back to enjoying your favorite hot and cold treats.

*Adapted from Dr. Katie Sowa’s article “Why are my teeth so sensitive?”

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