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Woman with a hot cup of coffee. Woman with a hot cup of coffee. Woman with a hot cup of coffee.

Extremely Sensitive Teeth: Causes and Treatments

Extreme tooth sensitivity can make even the simplest pleasures like a cup of hot chocolate pretty painful.

Extremely sensitive teeth can be more than a little painful. A lot of people experience sensitivity when they eat or drink something that's either really hot or really cold. Here's what's happening and what you can do to stop it.

What Is Tooth Sensitivity?

When trying to get a handle on your extremely sensitive teeth, it helps to understand the anatomy of a healthy tooth. The American Dental Association (ADA) explains that enamel, the hardest tissue in the body, forms a protective coating over the tooth's crown. Cementum, another hard tissue, protects the roots that sit below the gumline.

Beneath the enamel and cementum is a less dense tissue called dentin, which covers the pulp – a soft tissue containing the nerves at the center of the tooth. Within the dentin are small tubules or pathways that, once exposed, can send the things you eat and drink straight to the nerve and cause you a sharp pain.

Causes of Extremely Sensitive Teeth

Worn enamel and cementum, a cracked tooth or even receding gums can cause dentin exposure. Plaque bacteria that live in your mouth spike acid attacks throughout the day in response to the things you eat and drink. Those attacks strip the minerals from your enamel and cementum. Later, saliva washes away debris and redeposits minerals like calcium and phosphate to the surface, according to the ADA. If you frequently snack on sweet or sticky food, saliva might not have enough time to completely clean the teeth between meals, resulting in prolonged mineral loss.

Over-exposure to acidic substances like oranges and red wine also soften your enamel, leaving it weak in the face of the next acid attack. Receding gums, typically caused by early gum disease or aggressive brushing, can be a major source of sensitivity because a gumline that pulls away from the base of the tooth creates a pocket that exposes the root and nerve.

Should You See a Dentist?

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) recommends seeing a dentist if you notice a specific tooth is sensitive for more than three or four days. It could be a symptom of something more serious like a cavity or an abscess. Of course, contact your dentist if you experience a loose tooth, swollen gums or persistent pain when you chew.

You don't have to live with sensitivity pain. Pay attention to the source of the problem so you can start using the correct solutions to end it.