WE ARE getting to that time of year when families meet over goodies.

It's time to sink our precious teeth into rich chocolate, a mouthful of brownies, tough braai meat, sweets and other sugary festive treats.

Unfortunately, these can lead to sensitive teeth.

According to dental professionals, sensitive, painful teeth cause daily discomfort to at least 30percent of all adults, especially when food and drinks of extreme temperatures or sweetness are used, such as chilled drinks or ice-cream.

Lebogang Manyake of Sensodyne toothpaste says these are known as "triggers" and are unique to different people. But it comes down to the same thing - it may be difficult to enjoy your favourite foods or relax and enjoy a meal out or even a braai.

What causes sensitivity?

Manyake says gum disease and damaged tooth enamel are the main causes.

"In healthy teeth, porous tissue called dentin inside your teeth is protected by your gums and a hard enamel shell.

"When this protection is lost, microscopic holes in the dentin called tubules transmit heat, cold and other irritants back to the tooth nerve, causing pain."

Manyake adds that enamel can be damaged by chips and fractures, clenching because of stress or even grinding your teeth at night (a habit known as bruxism, of which many people are completely unaware).

How to help prevent and treat sensitive teeth?

Luckily, in most cases, sensitive teeth can be treated by simply adjusting and improving your dental routine, says Manyeke.

"Use a specially designed toothbrush with gentle, end rounded bristles that help prevent gum irritation, a compact head for easy access to hard-to-reach places and an ergonomic handle for a comfortable grip."

How you can keep your teeth healthy

l Brush at least twice a day - after breakfast and before bedtime. If you can, brush after lunch or after sweet snacks. Brushing properly breaks down plaque.

l Brush all of your teeth, not just the front ones. Spend some time on the teeth along the sides and in the back. Brush away from your gums.

l Take your time while brushing. Spend at least three minutes each time you brush.

If you have trouble keeping track of the time, use a timer or play a recording of a song you like to help pass the time.

l Be sure your toothbrush has soft bristles.

l Change your toothbrush every three months. Some toothbrushes come with bristles that change colour when it's time to change it.

l Floss your teeth, which is a very important way to keep them healthy. Slip the dental floss between each tooth and up along the gum line.

l It's also important to visit the dentist twice a year. Besides checking for signs of cavities or gum disease, the dentist will help keep your teeth extra clean, and he or she can help you learn the best way to brush and floss.

l It's not just brushing and flossing that keep your teeth healthy - you also need to be careful about what you eat and drink. Remember, the plaque on your teeth is just waiting for that sugar to arrive.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and drink water instead of soda. And don't forget to smile!