Do you have sensitive teeth, ones that sometimes pain you when you sip hot coffee or drink iced tea? Does it ever hurt when you brush or floss your teeth? Tooth sensitivity is something many people suffer, and most try to ignore it for as long as possible rather than go to the dentist. It’s better, though, to address it early on when you first detect it. That way you’re much more likely to be fixing a small problem instead of a major one. What causes sensitive teeth?

toothlabeledThere are a number of possibilities, including:

To understand why your teeth might hurt, let’s look at the anatomy of a tooth. The crown of a tooth is the part that is visible above the gum line. Enamel is the hard, white, mineralized substance that serves as a barrier to protect the tooth. Below the gum line, the protective layer is called cementum. Under both of these is the dentin.

Dentin is a yellow tissue that is less mineralized and brittle than the enamel, but supports the enamel’s function. Softer and more porous, dentin decays much more rapidly than enamel does. Exposure of dentin can lead to serious cavities.

Below the dentin is the tooth’s pulp. The pulp is made up of living connective tissue and cells called odontoblasts. It contains both nerves and blood vessels. Remember, nerves are what conduct pain sensation to the brain.

If you have an uncompromised enamel layer, you won’t feel sharpness or pain when drink hot or cold beverages or brush your teeth a little too hard. If that enamel is worn and some of the dentin is exposed, the tubules (small, hollow tubes) within that tissue can transmit the sensations of hot, cold, or pain to the nerves in the tooth’s pulp. Unhealthy gums can also expose more of the cementum which might cause the same.

Obviously, the solution is to protect your enamel and keep it healthy and also to maintain healthy gum tissue. There are solutions that dentists will recommend to minimize tooth sensitivity. These solutions either help repair enamel, address gum disease, or correct a larger problem like a crack in the tooth. They include using a desensitizing toothpaste or fluoride gel, installing a crown on the tooth, or getting a root canal. Again, the sooner you address the problem of tooth sensitivity, the simpler the solution will be.

If you have noticed pain when you eat or drink, please do call your dentist to schedule an appointment today. Tooth pain may seem like more of an annoyance, but it can worsen quickly and affect your quality of life.