Teeth Sensitive to Cold: Causes and Treatment

Teeth Sensitive to Cold: Causes and Treatment

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Oct 17, 2023
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
Teeth Sensitive to Cold: Causes and Treatment

Is your tooth sensitive to hot and cold? Tooth sensitivity is one of the most common dental problems that people experience.  But the type of sensation you’re feeling can be caused by a number of different factors. Understanding what makes sensitive teeth to cold can help you eliminate tooth pain, keep it from coming back, or know when to see a dentist about getting it treated.

Your teeth are covered by thousands of tiny pores called “tubules”. Each tubule houses a small nerve ending that runs through the different layers of the tooth. If and when they’re exposed to different types of sensations, it can make a tooth sensitive to hot and cold.

Symptoms Of Sensitive To Cold      

If you have sensitive teeth to cold, the symptoms are pretty straightforward. Any time you eat or drink something cold or even breathe in cold air, it can set off a sharp jolting sensation through your teeth.

Some of the most common times people notice cold sensitivity include:

  • drinking ice water or other cold beverages
  • biting into ice cream
  • brushing and rinsing their teeth
  • side-effects associated with teeth whitening products

Most cold sensitivity comes and goes, depending on what causes it. It rarely lingers or lasts for a long period of time. Generally speaking, it will usually wear off in a matter of seconds but then flare up any time your teeth are exposed to cold temperatures again.

Don’t ignore your tooth sensitivity; your body is trying to tell you that something is going on! Understanding the warning signs is the first step to treating any type of dental hypersensitivity.

Common Causes Of Cold Sensitivity:

Enamel Erosion 

Acid erosion can thin your tooth enamel, making it less resistant to temperature changes. If you have constant reflux or a highly acidic diet, try to rinse your mouth out with water or fluoride mouthwash frequently throughout the day.

Gum Recession 

When your gums start to pull away, it exposes your root surfaces to all of the outside elements. This portion of your tooth is made up of weaker dentin and cementum layers instead of enamel. Dentin is quite porous, so if it’s exposed to cold or even toothbrushing it can feel extremely painful.

FYI: Gum recession can be caused by brushing too hard, using a brush with stiff bristles, teeth grinding, or gum disease.

Related: Best Electric Toothbrushes for Sensitive Teeth and Gums 

Metal Orthodontic Appliances 

Remember learning about good conductors of heat or cold in elementary school? Having a “metal mouth” can cause cold temperatures to linger if you eat or drink something cool, making tooth sensitivity more noticeable than before you got braces.

Large Fillings Or New Dental Crowns

If you recently had a large cavity treated, there’s a chance that the nerve inside of your tooth is slightly traumatized by everything involved to repair the decay. Cold sensitivity or tenderness can last for a few weeks. If it doesn’t improve, let your dentist know.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity To Cold And Hot

Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold are two different scenarios. Although cold sensitivity can occur on healthy teeth, having a tooth that’s sensitive to hot temperatures is never a good sign. In most cases, heat sensitivity means that something is going on with the nerve (pulp) of your tooth, such as an abscess or dying tissues. In either case, the best treatment for heat sensitivity is usually a root canal.

What type of scenarios can cause heat sensitivity? Things like:

  • drinking coffee
  • eating hot soup
  • biting into a hot slice of pizza
  • a cavity or crack that reaches deep into a tooth

Any time you tell a dentist that your tooth is sensitive to heat, they’ll likely want to take an X-ray to see what’s going on inside of it.

But on the other hand, having teeth that are sensitive to cold temperatures may be completely natural because of the tubules covering each tooth. However, if you use whitening toothpaste regularly or recently completed a teeth whitening treatment, those tubules are usually wider and more sensitive to cold temperatures (because there aren’t any stain particles blocking them off.)

Treatment For Sensitive Teeth 

If you’re using any type of whitening products, scale back. You may want to only whiten every other day instead of daily or ask your dentist for a slightly different concentration of teeth bleaching gel. But if you’re one who prefers whitening toothpaste, you may want to switch to a sensitivity formula. It can take using a sensitivity toothpaste every day for up to two weeks before you’ll see full results, but the difference is usually quite noticeable. Just make sure you’re choosing a toothpaste that’s ADA approved for sensitivity and then you can know without a doubt that it’s proven and effective for treating sensitive teeth.

Adding fluoride rinse or gel into your daily routine can also help to block off your tubules and make teeth less sensitive. Even better, you can get a fluoride varnish treatment for tooth hypersensitivity at your dentist’s office. Some people say that they go as long as 3 months between treatments because of how well it works for their tooth sensitivity.

Products to help relieve teeth sensitivity:

Unfortunately, neither fluoride treatment nor sensitivity toothpaste will help much when a tooth is heat sensitive. In those situations, it usually means the nerve inside of a tooth is damaged, dying, or infected. At that point, a root canal is usually the only option to save your tooth.

Tooth Sensitivity To Cold Recap

Having a tooth sensitive to hot or cold is your sign to stop, look, and see what’s going on. Cold sensitivity is common for a lot of people (especially those of us who whiten our teeth or brush too hard) but with hot sensitivity, it means something is physically wrong with our tooth, or rather, the nerve inside of it.

Treating sensitive teeth can be as easy as swapping out toothpaste or using fluoride gel, or as complex as endodontic therapy. If your symptoms don’t improve or you have a tooth that hurts every time it’s exposed to hot or cold, be sure to schedule an exam with your dentist!

 Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio MA, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onNovember 30, 2023Here is our process

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