Does a cold glass of water cause you pain? What about a piping hot cup of coffee? Tooth sensitivity is surprisingly common, and is most noticeable when consuming very hot or very cold beverages and food. Even brushing or flossing your teeth can exacerbate the pain in some cases. Most commonly, sensitive teeth are caused by worn tooth enamel or exposed tooth roots, but it can be caused by other factors, like a cracked or chipped tooth, a worn filling or gum disease.

The most common causes of tooth sensitivity include:

  • Aggressive brushing
    It’s of course important to brush vigorously and thoroughly, but brushing too hard can wear down tooth enamel and even the surface layer of the tooth root. A good rule of thumb is if you’re wearing down your toothbrushes faster than you go through your floss, you may be brushing too intensely. Over-brushing teeth can damage your enamel, but it can also lead to gum recession, which exposes the softer, more sensitive parts of your tooth and thus leads to more pain and sensitivity.
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  • Skipping your full dental routine
    On the other end of the spectrum, not caring for your teeth enough can also lead to problems. You’ve heard your dentist tell you a million times, but brushing, flossing and rinsing twice daily is the best thing you can do for your oral health and tooth enamel. Using a fluoride toothpaste can help strengthen your enamel, which is imperative to protecting the sensitive parts of your teeth.
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  • Receding gums
    If you are experiencing tooth pain, be sure to take a good look at your gums. If they look like they are starting to pull away from your teeth, it could mean that your gums are receding. In turn, receding gums can cause tooth sensitivity when the dentin tubules that protect your nerves become exposed. While this can be caused by excessive brushing, it can also result from more serious conditions like periodontal diseases or chronic tooth grinding. If you suspect your gums are receding, talk to your dentist to obtain a proper diagnosis.
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  • Diet choices
    Your teeth are like the gatekeepers to your stomach, so everything you eat affects your oral health. Like the old adage says, moderation is key. Overdoing it on acidic foods, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, grains and pickled foods or acidic beverages, like orange juice, coffee, sports drinks, wine or sodas can all have a negative effect on the integrity of your tooth enamel. Acidity is not the only enemy, as sugar can be just as detrimental. The excessive sugar content in treats like cookies, candy, cake and ice cream can cause bacteria to grow, which in turn produces acids that can break down tooth structure.

Sensitive teeth can cause unnecessary discomfort and make enjoying your favorite foods and beverages a pain. Consult your dentist if you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity, as they can rule out any more serious underlying causes of tooth pain. Based on your exam, your dentist may recommend any number of solutions to mitigate tooth sensitivity. Simple remedies include specialized desensitizing toothpaste or prescription fluoride applications. If your tooth root is the problem, a surgical gum graft or root canal may be necessary depending on the circumstances. Your dentist is your best resource for getting to the root cause of the problem, so consulting them to treat your tooth sensitivity is essential.