What Causes Teeth to Be Sensitive to Hot & Cold Liquids?

What Causes Teeth to Be Sensitive to Hot & Cold Liquids?

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Your dentist will do a thorough exam to determine the underlying cause of tooth sensitivity.

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If eating ice cream is a painful experience, or drinking hot tea or coffee sends you through the roof, you are not alone. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, 40 million people in the U.S. occasionally suffer from tooth sensitivity. In fact, it's one of the most common complaints heard by dentists. A variety of dental problems can cause sensitive teeth, and your dentist can diagnose the cause. While there are many causes for this condition, there are also effective treatments.

Origin of Sensitive Teeth

Enamel -- the strongest material in the body -- covers the crown, or visible portion, of your teeth. The roots are covered by a substance called cementum, which is not as hard as enamel. Both enamel and cementum protect the less dense, inner layer of your tooth called the dentin, which consists of microscopic tubules that contain nerve endings. If the enamel or cementum is not entirely intact, hot and cold foods or liquids can irritate the nerve endings in the dentin of the tooth. These hypersensitive nerve endings produce the short, sharp pain that you feel when your teeth are exposed to hot or cold foods or beverages.

Tooth and Gum Problems

Tooth decay is a common cause of sensitivity, as decay erodes through the enamel into the dentin layer of the tooth. Gum recession, whether from gum disease or improper brushing with a hard brush, causes a portion of your roots and cementum to be exposed and commonly triggers temperature sensitivity. Worn, leaky fillings, a cracked tooth or enamel that has worn away due to abrasion or grinding of your teeth are also sources of sensitivity. In addition, highly acidic foods can cause erosion of your teeth and lead to temperature sensitivity.

Temporary Sensitivity

Not all sensitivity comes from having a dental problem. Sometimes it is the result of recent dental treatment. It is not unusual to have some sensitivity after professional cleanings, filling and crown preparations and tooth bleaching treatments. Sensitivity due to dental treatments is usually brief. However, let your dentist know if it continues or is extreme. Some people develop sensitivity when using a whitening or tartar preventing toothpaste. Discuss the best choice of toothpaste with your dentist or hygienist.

Treatment and Prevention

You do not have to suffer with sensitive teeth. Your dentist can diagnose and treat the underlying problem. If an obvious dental problem is not the source of your pain, your dentist may recommend a desensitizing toothpaste or apply a fluoride gel to your sensitive areas. In the case of severe, persistent sensitivity that does not respond to other treatment, your dentist may give you the option of a root canal treatment to alleviate the problem by removing the nerve from the affected tooth. Prevention is the best medicine for dental problems, and tooth sensitivity is no exception. Keeping your teeth and mouth healthy and seeing your dentist at the first sign of sensitivity are essential.