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Sharp tooth pain while eating ice cream or drinking hot coffee may indicate sensitive teeth, and although they can be irritating, it’s usually not a serious problem. If tooth sensitivity is something new you may wonder if it’s related to age. The answer is somewhat surprising: Younger adults are more affected by sensitive teeth, although tooth sensitivity can occur at any age.

What Is Tooth Sensitivity?

Sensitive teeth refers to the pain that arises when eating, drinking, toothbrushing, or breathing cold air. The painful sensation is temporary but may come and go over time. Tooth sensitivity is very common, but if you notice the sensation yourself, consult with a dental hygienist or dentist, because tooth pain can arise from other causes as well, such as a cavity or cracked tooth.

Where Does the Pain Come From?

Sensitive teeth may arise from eroded tooth enamel or receding gums, which expose the dentin or tooth’s root. Your tooth enamel may become damaged from overly vigorous tooth brushing, consuming acidic foods, grinding teeth, acid reflux, or if you recently experienced bouts of vomiting – which can harm your enamel as you vomit. Receding gums can also create sensitivity, and is especially common in adults as they get older. Common causes of receding gums include diabetes, which can give way to periodontal disease; inadequate brushing or flossing; and using tobacco products.

Sensitive Teeth and Age

Sensitive teeth may occur at any age, although the causes differ across age groups. Research by the National Institutes of Health suggests adults ages 20 to 50 are most likely to report sensitive teeth with the peak reports of dentin hypersensitivity with patients between 30 to 40 years of age. Although the exact reason for this is unknown, it may be related to the fact that the physical structure of the tooth changes with age. However, older individuals are more likely to have receding gums, one of the causes of sensitive teeth. Sometimes it comes down to more wear and tears on the tooth enamel, which occurs over time.

Care for Sensitive Teeth

Luckily, sensitive teeth can be prevented. Proper toothbrushing and flossing techniques can prevent sensitive teeth, and it will promote healthy teeth and gums regardless of your condition. Overly hard brushing can wear down the tooth enamel due to abrasives in toothpaste. Therefore, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and a desensitizing toothpaste may help protect your enamel.

Sensitive teeth are common among adults of all ages. Ask the dentist at your next checkup, “why are my teeth sensitive?” And they will surely point to receding gums and weak enamel as the most typical causes. Fortunately, pain from sensitive teeth may be treated with good oral hygiene, diet changes, and the use of oral care products that preserve tooth enamel and promote regular mouth health.