Ordinary things like taking a sip of hot coffee or brushing your teeth before bed can be pretty painful if you have sensitive teeth and gums. It might be hard to tell between the two problems, but knowing the difference will help you figure out the best way to get relief.
Tooth sensitivity has a few common symptoms. You might experience tooth pain when eating or drinking something hot or cold or acidic or sweet. Maybe brushing or flossing certain teeth results in a shooting pain. Often tooth sensitivity begins because of enamel erosion. Enamel erosion exposes the layer of dentin in your teeth, making it easier for substances to stimulate the roots and nerves. Since dentin is a yellow tissue, you might also notice that your teeth look discolored or dingy.
Gum sensitivity has some symptoms of its own, like tenderness and bleeding. When you look in the mirror, your gums might have the appearance of puffing out around your teeth. Fluctuating hormones and heredity can be a factor. One of the biggest causes of gum irritation is plaque, a sticky film full of bacteria that builds up on your teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), plaque bacteria causes acid attacks to erupt in response to the things you eat and drink throughout the day. If plaque hangs around for too long it hardens into tarter, which is so tough that only a dentist can remove it. Plaque and tarter can cause an infection in the gums or early gum disease, known as gingivitis. As these issues become more advanced, they often lead to the gum actually pulling away from the tooth and creating a pocket that exposes the root, says the ADA.
Try to avoid frequent snacking, especially on foods that will irritate your sensitive teeth and gums. The University of Rochester makes some recommendations for foods to stay away from like sticky sweets, sodas, alcohol (which dries out your mouth) and starches, like potato chips that get stuck between your teeth. It recommends alternatives like sugar-free tea, cheese and fluoridated water. Clean your teeth carefully each day to get rid of plaque and replenish the minerals on your enamel. Brush twice a day for at least two minutes with a remineralizing toothpaste like Colgate® Enamel Health™ Multi-Protection Toothpaste.
Sensitive teeth and gums can cause a lot of trouble in your mouth. Knowing the difference between the two problems can help you target a solution.