Sensitive teeth: Do hot and cold bother you?

If a taste of ice cream or a sip of coffee creates tooth pain, you may have sensitive teeth. This condition is common – at least 45 million adults in the U.S. suffer from sensitive teeth at some point in their lives – and it is treatable.

What you can do

The pain of sensitive teeth can be managed with a few simple steps:

  • Change your brand of toothpaste. Some toothpastes increase tooth sensitivity, including whitening toothpastes that lighten or remove stains from enamel, and tartar-control toothpastes containing sodium pyrophosphate. There are toothpastes specially made for people with sensitive teeth. Be aware that these products typically must be used on a regular basis for at least a month before you notice any therapeutic benefits. (You may see benefits more quickly if you massage the special toothpaste onto your gums with your finger after brushing your teeth with it.)
  • Take it easy on your teeth. Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes and brushing your teeth too vigorously, which can wear down the tooth’s root surface and expose sensitive spots. Take a good look at your toothbrush. If the bristles are flattened or pointing in multiple directions, you’re putting too much pressure on your teeth.
  • Skip the marinara sauce. Some foods or drinks can aggravate sensitive teeth. Avoid or limit acidic items (for example, food or drink with a high concentration of tomatoes, oranges or lemons) and sodas.

When to see a dentist

If a tooth is highly sensitive for more than three or four days and reacts to both hot and cold temperatures, it’s best to get an evaluation from your dentist to determine the extent of the problem. Because pain symptoms can be similar, some people might think that a tooth is sensitive when they actually have a cavity or abscess that’s not yet visible. Be sure to tell the dentist when the pain started and if there is anything (such as the application of a warm compress) that reduces or eliminates the pain.

If you are diagnosed with sensitive teeth, your dentist can prescribe one of a variety of treatment options, including both in-office treatments (applying a desensitizing agent or a protective coating to the teeth) and take-home products for personal use. If your tooth sensitivity is severe and persistent or it cannot be treated by other means, your dentist may recommend root canal treatment.

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