5 Reasons Your Teeth Are So Agonizingly Sensitive

Eating ice cream should be a hell of a wonderful experience. Drinking a steaming cup of coffee should be equally relaxing and stimulating. But when you have sensitive teeth, the pain comes and ruins the party.

“[Tooth sensitivity] is a sign that something needs to be addressed in your mouth, ”says Susan Maples, DDS, author of Blabber Mouth! 77 Secrets Only Your Mouth Can Tell You To Live Healthier, Happier, Sexier Life Says YOURSELF. Read on to learn more about common causes of sensitive teeth and their solutions.

1. The protective layers of your teeth are more worn than on your favorite jeans.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), tooth enamel, the outermost layer of your teeth, covers your crowns, also known as the parts of your teeth above your gumline. It’s supposed to help protect the delicate innards of your teeth from things that can cause sensitivity. Similarly, a substance called cement protects the roots of your teeth, which contain the mushy center that is home to blood vessels and nerves.

A phenomenon known as tooth erosion can wear out tooth enamel and cement. This can eventually affect the underlying dentin, which is a tissue that contains hollow channels called tubules. At this point, the tubules can allow hot, cold, sweet, sticky, or acidic foods and drinks to reach the nerves and cells in your teeth, resulting in shudder-inducing pain.

Dental erosion usually occurs when too much acid (like soda, acid reflux, or excessive vomiting) damages your teeth over time, according to the ADA. You can’t go back, so taking care of your teeth by avoiding acidic drinks or at least using a straw if possible is a good idea, says the ADA.

Some of the organization’s other recommendations focus on the fact that, interestingly, dairy products like milk and yogurt can help ward off erosion due to their calcium and phosphate. To this end, the ADA recommends drinking milk if you have acidic meals or drinks, or rinsing your mouth out with milk after vomiting. You can do this with water as well. (Of course, if you vomit regularly for any reason, this is a sign to seek help from a doctor.)

The ADA also recommends waiting an hour after eating or drinking something sour and then brushing your teeth with a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. This will give your saliva some time to try to cushion and remove the acids, and the fluoride toothpaste may help strengthen your teeth as a bonus.

If you end up eroding your tooth enamel, your dentist may be able to apply a paste or sealant to mend the area. Mark S. Wolff, DDS, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Nursing at New York University College of Dentistry, tells HERSELF. Even so, you want to do what you can to prevent this from being necessary in the first place.

2. A cavity (dun dun dun) has dug into the dentin of your teeth.

Cavities, also known as tooth decay or tooth decay, are small holes in the surface of your teeth, according to the Mayo Clinic. They can be caused by plaque, an inexorable film of bacteria that feeds on food and drink. If plaque isn’t brushed and flossed enough times, it can create small openings in your tooth enamel.

Without immediate treatment, cavities can actually drill over the enamel and into the dentin where they can cause serious tenderness, says Dr. Maples. If this is behind your sensitive teeth, your dentist needs to take steps to do better. “The only way to relieve the pain is to mechanically repair the defect,” Julie Cho, DMD, a general dentist in New York City, told SELF.

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