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There's help for sensitive teeth

Are you one of many Americans who bypasses the ice water at a restaurant or lets your mug of coffee cool down before you take a sip because you know it will make your teeth hurt? Or do you have to be extra tender when you brush, floss or chew?

You may have sensitive teeth, one of the most common oral health complaints by patients. But there are a variety of strategies you can use that can bring back your smile.

Sensitivity generally occurs when a tooth's dentin is exposed to heat, cold or acidity. Normally the sensitive dentin is protected by the bony enamel above the gum line and the cementum below the gums. However, if these protective coverings are damaged or worn away, the result can be hypersensitivity and occasional discomfort.

The American Dental Association recommends that you discuss sensitivity with your dentist. Cavities, fractured teeth, periodontal disease and exposed tooth roots can cause sensitivity. Tooth bleaching can also cause temporary sensitivity.

Your dentist can review proper oral hygiene techniques with you, since over-brushing or poor oral hygiene can also lead to or aggravate sensitive teeth.

Regular use of desensitizing toothpaste can help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. Desensitizing toothpaste usually requires several applications before the sensitivity is reduced.

If the desensitizing toothpaste does not ease your discomfort, your dentist may suggest in-office techniques. A fluoride gel, which strengthens tooth enamel and reduces the transmission of sensations, may be applied to the sensitive areas of the teeth.

If receding gums cause the sensitivity, your dentist may use agents that bond to the tooth root to "seal" the sensitive teeth. The sealer usually is composed of a plastic material.

Some sensitive teeth that don't respond to other treatments might need root canal treatment to eliminate the problem.

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Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

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