Why Are My Teeth Sensitive to Cold?

One question we get asked often is why teeth might feel sensitive. The answer to this question depends on the ailment, as will the treatment.

To understand the answer to this question, it helps to know a little about the structure of your teeth. Each tooth consists of the crown, which is the visible part of the tooth, and the root, which anchors each tooth into your jaw. Components of the crown include:

  • Tooth enamel– The hard, white-looking layer that protects the sensitive inner parts of each tooth. Tooth enamel is the hardest material in your body – even stronger than bone.
  • Cementum– A thin, protective layer of bone-like tissue under the gum line that protects the tooth root.
  • Dentin– A layer of softer tissue which contains tiny canals or ‘tubules’.
  • Pulp– The soft tissue deep inside each tooth that contains blood vessels, connective tissue and nerves.

If for any reason the enamel starts to wear way or erode, your tooth’s dentin is exposed. When this happens, nerve signals pass to the tooth root and from there to the brain – meaning that things like eating popsicles or drinking hot drinks, which normally don’t cause a reaction, can suddenly trigger pain.

What Causes Sensitive Teeth?

A range of factors can lead to tooth sensitivity, but there are two main underlying reasons: enamel loss and gum recession.

Causes of enamel loss include: 

  • Over-zealous brushing:Brushing too vigorously or too often.
  • Acid erosion:From acidic foods and drinks such as sugary sports drinks and sodas.

Causes of gum recession include:

  • Using a hard bristle toothbrush– This can injure the gum tissue.
  • Gum disease– A common oral health disease that can cause receding gums.
  • Your genes– Regardless of how you care for your teeth, you may be genetically susceptible to gum recession.
  • Smoking– Tobacco products increase plaque build-up on teeth which over time can lead to a greater risk of gum recession.

Professional and at-home teeth whitening (bleaching) treatments may cause temporary sensitivity, although this should disappear within a short time of stopping treatment.

Ways to Keep Your Mouth Healthy

If you’re wondering how to manage tooth sensitivity or how to soothe a sensitive tooth, there are a number of ways:

  • Start using an over the counter toothpaste such as Sensodyne or your dentist may give you a prescription fluoride toothpaste with other minerals that can help.
  • Brush twice a day, every day. Brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush for four minutes each time to keep teeth and gums clean and healthy. We often recommend the Philips Sonicare powerbrush to our patients as it is safe and effective in cleaning around both the teeth and gums.
  • Floss daily, or use interdental aides such as softpicks or proxabrushes.Making cleaning between your teeth a part of your daily tooth care routine helps maintain healthy gums.
  • Visit your dentist regularly. Schedule checkups for every six months or more often, as advised by your dentist.

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