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Tooth Sensitivity: Causes and Remedies

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An estimated 45 million people experience the pain and discomfort of tooth sensitivity. Tooth sensitivity means experiencing pain or discomfort to your teeth from sweets, cold air, hot drinks, cold drinks or cold food (such as ice cream).

Some people with sensitive teeth may even experience discomfort from aging, vigorous brushing and/or flossing. Fortunately, there is treatment for tooth sensitivity.

Cavities and fractured teeth can cause sensitive teeth. If these problems have been ruled out, oftentimes worn tooth enamel or a damaged (e.g., cracked or exposed tooth root) may be the cause.

Enamel, which is the strongest substance in the body, protects the crowns of healthy teeth. Under the enamel, a layer called cementum protects the tooth root under the gum line. And, beneath the enamel and the cementum is dentin, a part of the tooth that is less dense than enamel or cementum that contains microscopic tubules (small hollow tubes or canals).

When the dentin loses its protective covering, the tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth. Dentin may also be exposed when gums recede.

The result can be hypersensitivity near the gum line, causing pain. Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing gums from receding and causing sensitive-tooth pain. Gum problems can result if you brush your teeth incorrectly or too vigorously.

Fortunately, tooth sensitivity can be treated. Many dentists suggest a de-sensitizing toothpaste. These toothpastes contain compounds that help block stimulation from the tooth surface to the nerve. De-sensitizing toothpaste usually requires several applications before noticing results.

When choosing toothpaste or any other dental care products, it’s a good idea to look for the American Dental Association seal. This gives assurance that products have met the ADA threshold for safety and effectiveness.

If the de-sensitizing toothpaste doesn't minimize discomfort, dentists often offer in-office techniques. One technique involves the application of fluoride gel that strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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