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Ouch! What you can do about sensitive teeth

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Touchy teeth

Foods -- hot, cold, sweet or sour -- can cause pain in a sensitive tooth. Touch or even air can even be bothersome! Here are a few dental health tips to manage sensitive teeth.

Usually the pain stems from enamel erosion or receding gums (perhaps from tooth grinding or clenching). Here are a few simple things you can do to help the problem:

Use a desensitizing toothpaste

Desensitizing toothpastes (brands include Sensodyne, Crest Sensitivity Protection Toothpaste, Aquafresh Sensitive, Arm & Hammer Advance White for Sensitive Teeth, and Colgate Sensitive Maximum Strength Plus Whitening) contain compounds that help block the sensation that might otherwise stimulate pain in the tooth's nerve. Choose a product that displays the American Dental Association's Seal of Acceptance.

Avoid using whitening or tartar control toothpastes, as they may increase sensitivity to hot or cold.

Brush the best way

Use a soft toothbrush, and make sure you're brushing with short back-and-forth strokes, then in a gentle up-and-down motion. Brush thoroughly -- twice a day -- and floss daily.

See your dentist

If you still have discomfort when brushing, flossing, chewing or drinking, you may need dental treatment. What can the tooth-care man/woman do for you? Sometimes coating sensitive areas of affected teeth with a fluoride gel or special desensitizing agent can helps. And if the the problem stems from tooth decay, a cracked tooth, worn filling or a loose tooth crown -- these should be treated by a specialist.

Information adapted from the April 2005 issue of The Mayo Clinic Health Letter
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