If you suffer from sensitive teeth, there’s pain lurking around every corner. Hot cups of coffee, a platter of crudités or even breathing in cold air can be excruciating.
So why does it happen? “Tooth sensitivity to extreme temperatures is most often due to an exposed root surface,” says Euan Swan, manager of dental programs at the Canadian Dental Association (CDA). Below the protective coating on the outside of our teeth is an area called dentin, which contains microscopic canals called tubules. “When the dentin loses its protective covering, the tubules allow heat and cold or acidic or sticky foods to stimulate the nerves and cells inside the tooth,” explains Swan. But there are easy ways to treat this common issue.
1. Use toothpaste made for sensitive teeth
We’ve all seen the commercials that end with people happily biting into ice cream cones, so it’s good to hear from a professional that these products do work. “A desensitizing toothpaste contains compounds that help block transmissions of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve,” says Dr. Swan. He says most people will feel a difference within a week to 10 days.
2. Choose a soft-bristled toothbrush
Since you want to keep the protective layer of your teeth as strong as possible, it makes sense that you shouldn’t go about cleaning them with the same vigor that you would scrub a dirty pot. “A toothbrush with soft bristles is recommended to clean your mouth without damaging teeth or gums,” says Swan.
3. Look for dental products with fluoride
While it may sound like a marketing buzzword, fluoride is the real deal and can be an important part of your dental routine. “Fluoride can help remineralize, or strengthen, a tooth surface that has been demineralized by bacterial acids,” explains Dr. Swan. So upgrade your mouthwash and toothpaste if you’re not already using products that contain fluoride.
4. Cut down on acidic food and drinks
Altering your diet, particularly where acidic items are concerned, can keep you from wincing in pain every time you sit down to eat. “Acidic food and drink can contribute to tooth erosion and tooth sensitivity,” says Dr. Swan. His list of things to consume in moderation includes soft drinks, citrus fruit juices and wine.
5. Get a night guard
If you find you often wake up with a dull headache or a sore jaw, you could be spending your hours of slumber slowly ruining your teeth. “Grinding teeth for prolonged periods can contribute to tooth sensitivity through tooth wear,” says Dr. Swan. But there’s an easy solution to this damaging problem: “Your dentist can fit you with a mouth guard to protect your teeth during sleep.”
6. Practice good oral care
There’s nothing new about this one. Brush and floss daily and make regular trips to your dentist. It might seem overly simple, but it’s the absolute best way to keep your teeth in tip-top shape. “Proper oral hygiene is the key to preventing gums from receding and causing sensitive-tooth pain,” explains Dr. Swan.
And if you think you’re already doing a pretty good job taking care of your teeth, but still can’t enjoy biting into a cold, crisp apple, go straight to the experts. Your dentist can evaluate your current oral hygiene routine and help you determine the best way to decrease the sensitivity.