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Teeth Sensitive to Cold: Causes, Remedies and Prevention

Aaron Clarius Headshot
Written by
Aaron Clarius
Medically Reviewed by 
Dr. Erica Anand
8 Sources Cited

What is Tooth Sensitivity? 

Many people notice that 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 your 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 There are a variety of remedies and professional treatments available for sensitive teeth.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity to Cold?

Tooth sensitivity to cold (as well as heat and other stimuli) generally comes from exposed dentin, which is the part of the tooth beneath the enamel.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 When it becomes exposed, sensitivity to cold is a common result.

Dentin exposure and tooth sensitivity to cold can come from several different causes:

Receding Gum Line

If your gums are receding, or pulling away from your teeth, they can leave the roots of your teeth exposed.

The roots of your teeth are sensitive. If they’re no longer completely covered by gum tissue, they can make exposure to cold air, food, or fluids painful.1

Receding gums can be a sign of gum disease. They can also be caused by excessive or aggressive tooth brushing, smoking, and other habits.3

Some people may be genetically predisposed to having a receding gum line, and aging might also play a role.

Gum recession may also be an unintended result of certain orthodontic treatments.4

Worn Enamel

Aside from the roots, your teeth have an outer layer of hard enamel that protects the dentin and pulp within. 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

  • Aggressive or improper tooth brushing
  • Acidic foods and drinks (wine, coffee, soda, certain fruits)
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Gastrointestinal problems, such as acid reflux
  • Dry mouth (xerostomia), with insufficient saliva to protect your teeth
  • Certain dental procedures, including regular cleanings over a long period

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.

Cracked Teeth

Sometimes repeated stress or injuries can cause teeth to crack. This is another way a tooth can become especially sensitive.

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 and Gum Disease

Tooth sensitivity to cold may be a sign of tooth decay or gum disease, especially if you experience tooth pain without exposure to cold.

Tooth decay and gum disease can both result from poor oral hygiene. Brushing and flossing regularly and properly 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.

Home Remedies for Tooth Sensitivity

There are some steps you can take at home to reduce and relieve tooth sensitivity:

Avoid Certain Foods and Drinks

If your teeth are especially sensitive, avoid foods that are likely to give you a hard time.2 Don’t eat or drink anything too cold, and take special care not to bite into cold foods like ice cream.

Because acidic foods and drinks can contribute to tooth sensitivity by wearing down enamel, avoid consuming them in excess.3, 5

Try to avoid consuming too much:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Wine
  • Soda
  • Citrus fruits

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. By avoiding excessive amounts of sugar, you can help prevent plaque buildup and reduce your risk of tooth decay and gum disease.

Brush Gently

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

Use a Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth

There are many toothpastes available that are meant to be gentle on sensitive teeth and help reduce their sensitivity over time.

These toothpastes often contain strontium or arginine, which are natural ingredients that help seal exposed dentin and support the remineralization of your enamel.3, 4

They may also contain potassium nitrate, which works by calming the nerves in your teeth.1, 3

Toothpastes 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

When to See a Doctor for Tooth Sensitivity

If your tooth sensitivity goes beyond cold or heat and persists even with normal eating and oral hygiene practices, you may want to see your doctor or dentist.

Note: Home remedies for sensitive teeth won’t do anything to heal a cracked tooth, nor will they cure tooth decay or gum disease.

Diagnosis

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 provide your dentist with accurate details as to what causes your teeth to hurt.

Professional Treatments

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 tooth sensitivity, there are more intensive options available, such as:

  • Bonding agents or cervical restorations, which can seal the dentin in your teeth and reduce nerve exposure
  • Tissue grafting to restore the gum line and cover exposed roots
  • Root canal therapy, which is not normally performed to treat hypersensitivity, but does eliminate it4

These procedures come with risks and aren’t offered as first-line treatments for sensitive teeth. They should be considered as a last resort in cases where non-invasive treatments have failed.3,4

Talk to your dentist and share any concerns you have about your tooth sensitivity. They will ensure that all non-invasive options have been tried before considering more advanced ones.

Prevention

While tooth sensitivity to cold can result from poor oral hygiene, some degree of it may 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 eventually cause some tooth sensitivity.1

You can reduce your risk and degree of tooth hypersensitivity, however, by maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and cleaning your teeth properly.1, 3

Summary

Tooth sensitivity to cold is common and isn’t necessarily a cause for serious concern. It generally results from exposed dentin in your teeth.

Dentin can be exposed by wearing down of your enamel or by a receding gum line. Both of these can be prevented and mitigated to some extent, but they may be hard to completely avoid over a lifetime.

By avoiding cold foods and using desensitizing toothpastes or mouthwashes, you can reduce painful tooth sensitivity. More advanced treatments are also available but shouldn’t be a first resort.

Tooth sensitivity to cold may also be associated with tooth decay or gum disease. In these cases, professional treatment is necessary to address the underlying issue.

Good oral hygiene, gentle brushing, and a balanced diet can all help you preserve your enamel and keep your teeth strong.

Last updated on April 8, 2022
8 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 8, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Markowitz, Kenneth. "A new treatment alternative for sensitive teeth: A desensitizing oral rinse." Journal of Dentistry vol. 41,1 : S1-S11. doi:10.1016/j.dent.2012.09.007
  2. Haneet, Ryana Kour and Laxman Kharidi Vandana. "Prevalence of dentinal hypersensitivity and study of associated factors: a cross-sectional study based on the general dental population of Davangere, Karnataka, India." International Dental Journal vol.66,1 : 49-57. doi:10.1111/idj.12206
  3. Davari, AR et al. “Dentin hypersensitivity: etiology, diagnosis and treatment; a literature review.Journal of dentistry (Shiraz, Iran) vol. 14,3 : 136-45.
  4. Clark, Danielle and Liran Levin. "Non-surgical management of tooth hypersensitivity." International Dental Journal, vol.66,5 , 249-256. doi:10.1111/idj.12247
  5. Blaizot, Alessandra et al. “Prevalence of sensitive teeth and associated factors: a multicentre, cross-sectional questionnaire survey in France.BMC Oral Health 20, 234 . doi:10.1186/s12903-020-01216-1
  6. Miglani, Sanjay et al. “Dentin hypersensitivity: Recent trends in management.Journal of conservative dentistry : JCD vol. 13,4 : 218-24. doi:10.4103/0972-0707.73385
  7. Jati, Ana Suzy et al. “Gingival recession: its causes and types, and the importance of orthodontic treatment.Dental press journal of orthodontics vol. 21,3 : 18-29. doi:10.1590/2177-6709.21.3.018-029.oin
  8. Daubert, Diane M et al. “Human enamel thickness and ENAM polymorphism.International journal of oral science vol. 8,2 93-7. 30 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1038/ijos.2016.1
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