Do your teeth become extra sensitive when the weather turns cold? If so, you’re not alone. Cold temperatures can exacerbate the pain of sensitive teeth for many La Jolla residents, making it difficult to enjoy the winter season. The good news is that understanding the cause of this sensitivity can help you take steps to minimize it. Harmony Dental Group can help you explore the connection between cold weather and sensitive teeth and how you can manage the discomfort.
Why are Teeth Sensitive to Cold?
Have you ever noticed that when the weather gets cold, your teeth start to hurt? This is a common phenomenon caused by changes in temperature and the way the nerves in our teeth respond to them.
When the weather outside is cold, our teeth are exposed to temperatures much lower than our mouths are used to. Similar to biting down into ice cream or drinking a glass of ice water. This initial contact irritates the small nerves housed in the porous, tiny openings in our teeth. As you might guess, these nerves are sensitive to temperature changes, which can make our teeth hurt when we come into contact with something cold.
Tooth sensitivity can be especially noticeable in cold weather, as our teeth are exposed to even lower temperatures than normal, especially if we’re breathing through our mouth when we’re outdoors.
The Link Between Cold Weather and Tooth Sensitivity
Any time your tooth is sensitive to temperature changes, there’s a chance that something could be wrong (especially if it’s something hot.) The good news is that cold sensitivity usually isn’t anything to be worried about. But at Harmony Dental Group, there are still things we’ll want to rule out during your dental checkups.
Our teeth contain tiny tubes called “tubules” that are filled with nerve endings. And if we have gum recession, causing the root surfaces of our teeth to be exposed, the tooth will be even more sensitive. When exposed to cold temperatures, these nerve endings react and send a signal of discomfort to the brain. As the cold air hits your teeth, you may feel like they’re hurting or throbbing.
Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity
Besides cold weather, there are many other causes of tooth sensitivity that may make your symptoms worse.
Enamel Wear and Erosion
If the enamel, which protects the sensitive dentin layer underneath, is worn down due to brushing too hard or fractures, the sensitive nerves may become exposed and lead to tooth sensitivity. Enamel erosion can also be caused by acid reflux, acidic foods and drinks, or eating disorders, among others.
Gum Recession and/or Periodontal Disease
Exposed root surfaces are extremely sensitive to temperature changes and foods. Normally healthy gum tissues will cover the roots. But if gum disease or recession takes hold, the root will be exposed to external elements and temperature changes.
A classic red flag for cavities is sensitivity to sweets. For abscessed teeth it’s hot temperatures. But decaying teeth may be more sensitive overall, making them hurt more during the winter compared to healthy teeth.
Large Fillings or Braces
Cold weather can certainly aggravate existing tooth sensitivity, but it is important to be aware of other potential causes of tooth sensitivity such as large restorations that may help conduct temperature changes more than tooth anatomy does. For instance, if you have metal brackets and wires because of orthodontic treatment, there’s a good chance that your braces will feel cold if you step outside and smile during the winter months.
Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism) can wear away the enamel, exposing the dentin underneath and causing discomfort in general, not to mention TMJ pain.
How to Treat Sensitive Teeth in the Winter
Once the cold weather sets in, tooth sensitivity can flare up and leave your teeth feeling sore and uncomfortable. The good news is that there are several ways to help manage your tooth sensitivity during the colder months of the year (or that trip to your favorite ski resort.)
- Be more mindful of the foods and beverages you consume. Cold and hot temperatures can cause teeth to hurt, so if you’re eating ice cream or sipping a hot beverage, take it slow.
- Avoid acidic or sugary foods that can cause enamel erosion and lead to further tooth sensitivity.
- Use a desensitizing or “sensitivity” toothpaste. Desensitizing toothpastes contain compounds such as fluoride, hydroxyapatite crystals, potassium nitrate, and strontium chloride that reduce nerve activity in the teeth. For best results, use sensitive toothpaste twice a day for at least two weeks and keep using it once symptoms improve.
- You can also ask our La Jolla dentist for a prescription fluoride gel or use a mouthwash containing fluoride to help reduce cold weather tooth sensitivity. Fluoride helps strengthen enamel, which can help reduce the pain associated with exposed dentin. It will also help reduce your risk of new cavities.
- Make sure you’re using a soft-bristled toothbrush can help reduce the chances of enamel erosion and protect against cold weather tooth sensitivity.
- Wear a protective night guard while you’re sleeping to reduce enamel wear caused by clenching and grinding your teeth.
Finally, you should consider visiting our La Jolla dentist to evaluate the cause of your tooth sensitivity, especially if symptoms aren’t improving or are suddenly getting worse.
Do I Need to See a Dentist if My Teeth are Sensitive During Winter?
If you experience ongoing or sudden tooth sensitivity in cold weather, it’s best to get it checked out by a dentist. It could be a sign of an underlying issue like cavities, exposed tooth roots, a worn filling, or gum disease. Early intervention can preserve your smile and reduce the complexity of treatment you need in the future, if applicable.
At Harmony Dental Group, we can assess your teeth and gums to determine the cause of your tooth sensitivity or pain. If your teeth consistently hurt in the cold weather, visit our La Jolla dentist as soon as possible. Flexible payment options are also available for our patients.