If you wince in pain after sipping a hot cup of coffee or chewing a piece of ice, chances are you suffer from “dentin hypersensitivity,” or sensitive teeth.

Hot and cold temperature changes cause your teeth to expand and contract. Over time, your teeth can develop microscopic cracks that allow these sensations to seep through to the nerves. Exposed areas of the tooth can cause pain and even affect or change your eating, drinking and breathing habits.

At least 45 million adults in the United States suffer or have suffered from sensitive teeth.

Sensitive teeth result when the underlying layer of your teeth (the dentin) becomes exposed. This can happen on the chewing surface of the tooth as well as at the gum line. In some cases, sensitive teeth are the result of gum disease, years of unconsciously clenching or grinding your teeth, or improper or too vigorous brushing (if the bristles of your toothbrush are pointing in multiple directions, you’re brushing too hard!).

Abrasive toothpaste is sometimes the culprit of sensitive teeth. Ingredients found in some whitening toothpaste that lightens and/or removes certain stains from enamel can cause sensitivity. Sodium pyrophosphate, the key ingredient in tartar-control toothpaste, may also increase tooth sensitivity.

In some cases, desensitizing toothpaste, sealants, desensitizing ionization and filling materials including fluoride, in conjunction with decreasing the intake of acid-containing foods can alleviate some of the pain associated with sensitive teeth.

Sometimes, a sensitive tooth may be confused by a patient for a cavity or abscess not yet visible.

In any case, contact Dr. Stenvall if you notice any change in your teeth’s sensitivity to temperature.