Hot or cold, my teeth hate both! Why are they so sensitive, and how can I stop the pain?

If you’ve been avoiding that ice cream cone or cup of coffee because of sensitive teeth, you don’t have to! Sensitivity is a common dental problem that can result from a number of factors. Involuntary grinding, jaw clenching, gum recession and enamel loss can all cause teeth to become extra sensitive, because the usually-protected layer of dentin—the nerve-packed surface beneath a tooth’s enamel—is exposed to external stimuli. Surface irritants such as braces and teeth whitening can also cause temporary sensitivity.

Because the causes of sensitivity are so diverse, and because sensitive gum tissue can indicate a more serious problem, ask your dentist which treatment is best for you. A softer toothbrush is usually the first step, and special toothpastes can reduce sensitivity over time. There are also over-the-counter fluoride rinses to protect your enamel against further damage and in-office procedures to coat your teeth with a protective agent.