As the temperatures drop, are your teeth feeling the chill? Cold air and blasts of icy wind can sting your face and zap your teeth. Find out what’s behind this painful phenomenon and what you can do to protect your mouth.
What causes cold sensitivity?
Contraction and expansion
Did you know that your front teeth can change as much as 120 degrees in temperature? Exposure to cold air — and hot foods — can be rough on teeth. Just like other materials, your teeth expand and contract as they change in temperature. As the inside and outside of your teeth adjust, little cracks can emerge. These cracks usually don’t affect tooth structure, but they can be uncomfortable. And if you have amalgam fillings, the discomfort may be worse. Metal expands and contracts more quickly than natural teeth do.
If the enamel, or the outside layer of your teeth, has started to wear away to reveal the dentin below, your teeth can become very sensitive. Without the protection of your enamel, the nerves inside your tooth are more exposed to the elements.
How to stop the pain
What can you do to get relief? First, talk to your dentist. A look inside your mouth — and possibly a new set of x-rays — can help your dentist figure out what’s causing the problem.
In some cases, switching to sensitive toothpaste may be all you need. Or, your dentist may paint a protective varnish onto your teeth.
In other cases, the pain may be a sign of something more serious. Cavities can also increase sensitivity, especially if the infection has reached the pulp, the heart of your tooth. Your dentist may perform a pulp vitality test to check the health of your teeth. This test involves placing a hot or cold instrument on each tooth — or asking you to bite down — to see how your teeth respond to temperature changes and pressure.
In the meantime, you can reduce the pain by breathing through your nose when you’re outside and brushing and flossing regularly to fight decay. Avoid whitening treatments and acidic foods, which can increase sensitivity.
Do your teeth ever hurt when you eat something hot or cold? When tooth enamel wears down or the gums recede, it exposes a layer of your teeth that is very sensitive to temperature changes. If something too hot or too cold touches this part of your mouth, you’ll feel some pain.
But you aren’t just at risk for this type of discomfort because of your diet. During the winter, your teeth contract in response to intense cold weather. This can lead to cracks in your teeth and cause the same type of pain that you experience when you bite into ice cream. Take a look at how the cold can affect your teeth, how this relates to winter weather, and what you can do to fix aches and sensitive teeth or nerves.
Can Cold Weather Make My Teeth Hurt?
Yes, cold weather can make your teeth hurt. In response to extreme heat and cold, your teeth expand and contract. Over time, this can lead to cracks in your teeth, exposing the vulnerable microscopic tubes beneath your enamel. This is the same tooth pain you feel because of cavities, gum disease, and other bad oral habits.
This layer below the enamel is called dentin. It’s the “core” of your teeth, with the enamel covering the top of this layer and the gums covering the bottom portion. Unfortunately, the dentin is covered in nerve fibers. Therefore, any problems with your enamel or gums, such as periodontal disease, could leave you vulnerable to cold weather pain.
Weather sensitivity can occur regardless of how well you care for your teeth, but you’re at greater risk if you don’t practice good oral hygiene and live in an area that has extreme temperature swings. To minimize sensitivity, you should learn about the common causes for sensitive teeth and what you should do when you notice pain because of the cold weather.
Common Culprits Responsible for Seasonally Sensitive Teeth
Your dentin could be exposed for a number of reasons. People often wear down their enamel or suffer from receding gums and tooth sensitivity because of one of the following reasons:
Periodontal disease: Diseases of the gums, cementum, periodontal ligament, and alveolar bone can expose the dentin and cause sensitivity. Gingivitis is one of the earliest stages of periodontal disease.
Brushing too vigorously: You may think that you need to bear down hard to remove surface stains, but brushing with too much force can start to wear down your enamel.
Clenching and grinding: Some people may clench or grind their teeth in their sleep. This can wear down tooth enamel and lead to sensitivity.
Tooth decay: Sensitivity to cold is an early sign of an undetected tooth decay problem. If you start to experience tooth pain, go see a dentist.
Tooth whitening agents: Have you started using a new tooth-whitening agent? The ingredients that make your teeth whiter may strip past surface stains and start wearing down your enamel. If the agent starts hurting your teeth, stop the treatment and consult with your dentist.
Acidic beverages: Sodas, coffee, tea, and other drinks with a high concentration of acid, such as juices, can erode your teeth and expose the dentin layer.
Other lifestyle habits: Other bad oral health habits, such as using tobacco products or not brushing or flossing properly, can cause your gums to recede. When this happens, the dentin at the base of the gums is exposed and can lead to temperature-sensitive teeth.
Try These Fixes for Your Sensitive Teeth
If you’re experiencing sensitivity, a dentist may recommend one of these fixes for your sensitive teeth:
A fluoride application: Fluoride is a natural mineral that a dentist can apply to your sensitive teeth. This application strengthens the enamel and thus prevents sensitivity because of exposed dentin.
Covering root surfaces: A dentist can apply a sealant to fix problems with receding gums.
Making a mouth guard: If you clench or grind your teeth, a dentist can make a mouth guard to prevent you from damaging your teeth in your sleep. This can help with jaw pain as well.
Root canal treatment: During a root canal procedure, the dentist removes the soft pulp inside the damaged tooth. This is recommended to fix issues with deep decay or a cracked or chipped tooth.
When to See a Dentist
You should see a dentist whenever you experience tooth sensitivity. This is also necessary if you need a more complex solution, such as a mouth guard. A dentist can also determine exactly which teeth are exposed to sensitivity and recommend an appropriate treatment or prescribe a special toothpaste or similar product. Finally, if your teeth are especially sensitive, a dentist can schedule a root canal, filling, or other advanced procedure.
Whether you’re just starting to struggle with sensitivity or always have issues in the cold weather, it’s worth visiting your dentist and finding a solution to resolve your pain.