Safest Teeth Whiteners
The safest ways to whiten your teeth explained
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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.
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:
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
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
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.
A cracked tooth may cause more problems than just sensitivity to cold. In these cases, a dental professional will need to treat it.
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.
There are some steps you can take at home to reduce and relieve tooth sensitivity:
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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