Sensitive teeth can be bothersome at best and downright excruciating at worst—but that doesn't mean that this ailment is one you need to accept as part of everyday life. When it comes to generalized dental sensitivity, there are several causes (and solutions!) for the aching pain. While some cases of tooth sensitivity will require medical intervention, many of them can be remedied at home with simply diet or oral hygiene changes. So, if you suffer from tingling or discomfort in your teeth while eating or drinking, give this a read before calling your dentist.
Related: Five Things Your Teeth and Gums Are Telling You About Your Overall Health
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Typically, dental sensitivity is caused by an inflammation of a tooth's nerve, due to external irritation. Normally, this isn't something you can see with the naked eye, even when you are experiencing pain. As for the most common causes? "Grinding, brushing too hard, cavities, and infection," notes Geoffrey R. Morris, DMD, MS, a cosmetic and restorative dentist. And while some cases of sensitivity can be fixed if they are caught early enough, other issues will require a dental professional's help.
Fluoride, swapping out your tooth brush for one with softer bristles, and using a night guard are all ways to reduce dental sensitivity, notes Dr. Morris. "The best recommendation, though, is to see your dentist regularly to proactively prevent sensitivity," he says. Since some issues may require medical interventions—like fillings or bonding—you may want to start your quest for relief in the dentist's chair sooner rather than later.
While dental sensitivity can be caused by factors like enamel erosion, decay, gingival recession due to brushing teeth too hard, or hygiene issues that have led to recession, Dr. Craig Copeland, DMD, of Smile Magic Family Dentistry, says that your diet might be to blame, as well. Sodas and other highly acidic drinks, ice, and even heated beverages like coffee and tea can all cause pain. "Acidic food or drinks usually cause the most sensitivity," Dr. Copeland shares.
Ping the Pros
If your sensitivity doesn't immediately resolve after the stimuli is removed (such as an acidic food or cold drink), you may need to check in with a professional. "If it gets past sensitivity and your teeth are hurting you or keeping you up at night, it's better go to the dentist," Dr. Copeland says. Some individuals, for example, experience a general sensitivity in their teeth all of the time, even with corrective measures. "These teeth don't necessarily need root canals or more advanced procedures, but need something therapeutic to help," he continues. "For these patients, I recommend different toothpastes that are made for sensitive teeth."