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Many people notice their teeth are sensitive to cold food and drinks, such as ice cream or cold water. They may even be sensitive to cold air. This sensitivity comes from exposed nerves in the teeth.1
These nerves may become exposed by worn tooth enamel or a receding gum line. They can also be a sign of tooth decay or gum disease.
Though painful, tooth hypersensitivity isn’t life-threatening and usually isn’t a major dental issue.2 Various remedies and professional treatments are available for sensitive teeth.
Cold sensitivity (as well as sensitivity to heat and other stimuli) generally comes from exposed dentin, which is the part of the tooth beneath the enamel (surface).1,2
While the dentin itself isn’t full of nerve endings, it’s connected to the sensitive pulp at the center of each tooth.1 Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures is a common result when it becomes exposed.
Dentin exposure and tooth sensitivity to cold can come from several different causes:
If your gums are receding or pulling away from your teeth, they can expose your tooth root.
Exposed tooth roots are sensitive. If they’re no longer completely covered by gum tissue, they can make exposure to cold air, food, or fluids painful.1
The following can cause receding gums:3,4
Aside from the roots, your teeth have an outer layer of hard enamel that protects the dentin and pulp. When your enamel is worn down, your teeth may become sensitive to cold.
Like gum recession, wearing of the enamel has several possible causes, including:1,3,5,6
Enamel isn’t living tissue, so it doesn’t grow back. Weak tooth enamel can be remineralized and improved to some extent but lost or damaged enamel can’t be restored.
Good oral hygiene and attention to diet can help preserve tooth enamel over time.
Sometimes repeated stress or injuries can cause teeth to crack. This is another way a tooth can become especially sensitive to cold temperatures.
A cracked tooth may cause more problems than just sensitivity to cold. In these cases, a dental professional will need to treat it.
Tooth decay or gum disease can make your teeth sensitive. This is especially if you experience tooth pain without exposure to cold.
These conditions can both result from poor oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing will help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you have concerns about tooth decay or gum disease, talk to a dentist or periodontist about how to prevent, manage, and treat these issues.
You may want to see your doctor or dentist if your teeth sensitivity goes beyond cold or heat and persists even with normal eating and oral hygiene practices.
Note: Home remedies for sensitive teeth won’t do anything to heal a cracked tooth, nor will they cure tooth decay or gum disease.
There are some steps you can take at home to reduce and relieve sensitive teeth:
If your teeth are especially sensitive, avoid foods likely to give you a hard time.2 Don’t eat or drink anything too cold; take special care not to bite into cold foods like ice cream.
Because acidic foods and drinks can contribute to sensitive teeth by wearing down enamel, avoid consuming them in excess.3,5
Try to avoid consuming too much:
These are all highly acidic and contribute to enamel corrosion.1,6
Sugary foods can cause plaque to build up around your teeth and gums. Avoiding excessive amounts of sugar can help prevent plaque buildup and reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Overly aggressive tooth brushing can wear down your enamel and leave your teeth more sensitive to cold.3, 5, 6 Brush your teeth gently and thoroughly to avoid abrasion.
If your toothbrush has hard bristles, consider getting a softer one that will cause less irritation and be gentler on your enamel.5,6
Many toothpastes are meant to be gentle on sensitive teeth and help reduce their sensitivity over time.
These often contain strontium or arginine, which are natural ingredients that help seal exposed dentin and support enamel remineralization.3,4
They may also contain potassium nitrate, which calms the nerves in your teeth.1,3
Toothpaste for sensitive teeth will also tend to lack certain ingredients that may be abrasive to your teeth.6
Desensitizing mouthwashes containing arginine are also available.1
By examining your mouth and teeth, your dentist can determine the underlying cause of your tooth sensitivity. Dentists know what to look for in diagnosing damage, decay, or inflammation.3,6
Be sure to give your dentist accurate details about what’s causing tooth pain.
The next stage in non-invasive treatment for your sensitive teeth may include desensitizers, which dentists use to help fill in exposed dentin.3,4,6
If non-invasive remedies fail to improve your teeth sensitivity, there are more intensive options available, such as:
These procedures come with risks and aren’t offered as first-line treatments for sensitive teeth. They should be considered as a last resort when non-invasive treatments fail.3,4
Talk to your dentist and share any concerns about your tooth sensitivity. They will ensure that all non-invasive options have been tried before considering more advanced ones.
While tooth sensitivity to cold can result from poor oral hygiene, it can also be hard to prevent.1 Aging and genetic factors may play a role in gum recession and enamel wear.7,8
A lifetime of normal eating and oral hygiene may be enough to cause some sensitivity eventually.1
Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and cleaning your teeth properly can help you achieve healthy teeth. This will reduce your risk and degree of sensitive tooth pain.1,3
Teeth that are sensitive to cold temperatures can be bothersome to many people. Many factors can make your teeth sensitive. Learning about them can help reduce sensitivity and maintain healthy teeth.
Various remedies are available for sensitive teeth. If your sensitivity causes severe pain, talk to your dentist immediately.
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