This is a question we are asked all the time, and our dentists know how painful and difficult it can be to struggle with temperature sensitivity. In the summer, there is nothing better than an ice cold beverage during an Orioles or Nationals game or after a sail on the Chesapeake Bay. In the winter, a hot drink can be soothing and warming for the whole body. Dental sensitivity that prevents you from enjoying your favorite beverages is frustrating, but you’re not alone. As many as 45 million people in the US struggle with dental sensitivity related to temperature, and the majority of these cases can be resolved with at-home care. However, some cases do need to be addressed by your dentist. If you’re one of the millions of people in the US struggling with tooth sensitivity and you’re ready to enjoy your favorite hot and cold beverages again, you should determine the underlying cause and work with your dentist to relieve tooth sensitivity with changes to your at-home oral hygiene routine or repair dental damage with in-office dentistry treatments.
Temperature Sensitivity Symptoms
The main symptom is tooth pain when exposed to heat or cold. Some patients report feeling a stabbing pain. Other people experience a dull, lingering discomfort after exposure to hot or cold beverages. In many cases, the treatment plan for dental sensitivity is determined by the length of time you experience temperature sensitivity after exposure.
Less Than 15 Seconds of Sensitivity
If pain or discomfort lasts only for a few seconds immediately after drinking a hot or cold beverage, the problem is unlikely to be serious. In these cases, the sensitivity is likely the result of mild tooth decay (cavities), a loose or lost filling, or minor gum recession. It makes sense to schedule a visit to your dentist as soon as possible, but it does not require emergency dental care.
Sensitivity That Lasts 30 Seconds or More
In these cases, you have likely suffered permanent damage to the internal structure (pulp) of your tooth. This could have been caused by deep dental decay, a tooth fracture, an accident or trauma, or it could be the result of a serious infection. In any of these cases, it is best to get a dental appointment scheduled immediately for a thorough evaluation – before the pain becomes constant and unbearable.
Causes of Dental Sensitivity
When you visit our dental office for tooth sensitivity treatment, the first step will be determining the underlying cause of the dental sensitivity. While the exact habit or experience that leads to dental sensitivity will vary from person to person, the underlying causes are typically the same. Each tooth is made up of three layers. The hard, outer layer called the enamel is the tooth’s defense system, protecting the softer, inner layers of teeth. Immediately below the enamel is the dentin, a tooth layer that contains a number of microscopic tubes that lead into the innermost layer of the tooth called the pulp. The nerve system of the tooth is housed within the pulp. Dental sensitivity to temperature typically occurs when cells within the dentin layers of teeth or the tooth’s nerve are stimulated by the hot or cold beverage.
Some common causes of dental temperature sensitivity include the following:
Reasons a Tooth is Sensitive to Cold
- Tooth Decay – if teeth also hurt when you’re chewing, the cold sensitivity may be related to a small cavity (decayed part of tooth).
- Gum Disease – the buildup of plaque on teeth, especially at the gum line, is an early indicator of gum disease, and large amounts of plaque on the tooth’s surfaces can contribute to cold sensitivity
- Brushing too hard – placing too much pressure on teeth, using abrasive toothpastes, or brushing with a hard bristled toothbrush can all ear away tooth enamel leading to cold sensitivity.
- Teeth grinding and clenching – this bad habit also called bruxism leads to loss of tooth enamel, chips in teeth, and other dental concerns that cause cold sensitivity.
- Gum tissue recession – irritation to the nerve of the tooth housed in the inner pulp layers of teeth can lead to cold sensitivity. The thinnest part of the enamel covers the tooth roots, so when gums recede exposing the roots, teeth are more likely to be sensitive to cold.
- Cracks in teeth – small cracks or crevices in teeth can develop into larger fissures as the tooth enamel expands and contracts with exposure to temperature changes. These cracks are another access point to the tooth’s nerve, leading to cold sensitivity.
Common Reasons a Tooth is Sensitive to Heat
- Dental treatments – teeth whitening is one of the most common treatments that leads to heat sensitivity, but just about any procedure can cause sensitivity to warm drinks, including teeth cleanings, root planing, and dental crown or filling placement. This is perfectly normal immediately following a dental procedure, but if it continues for more than a few weeks or gets worse, contact our dental office.
- Consuming an acidic diet – acids in coffee, tomato sauce, wine, and other foods and beverages consumed on a regular basis lead to enamel loss that can cause sensitivity to hot beverages.
- Chronic oral health concerns – 80% of tooth sensitivity starts at the gum line, so it’s no surprise that many people with sensitivity to heat are struggling with gum disease and soft tissue recession.
At-Home Tooth Sensitivity Solutions
If you’re experiencing mild temperature sensitivity, making some changes to your daily routine may be enough to reduce your dental discomfort.
Some changes you can make include:
- Use a straw – instead of allowing the cold or hot liquid to touch the teeth, use a straw to pull the liquid in past the teeth, reducing sensitivity.
- Reduce your consumption of acidic foods – acidic foods and beverages are tough on enamel and they can be especially irritating to the more sensitive dentin and pulp layers of teeth, so reducing your consumption of these foods and beverages can help you avoid sensitivity.
- Change your toothbrush – hard bristled toothbrushes and brushing too hard in general can irritate teeth and increase sensitivity. Changing to a softer bristled toothbrush and taking care to avoid brushing too hard can alleviate temperature sensitivity.
- Use toothpaste for sensitive teeth – there are many toothpastes available that are created specifically to target dental sensitivity, and ingredients in these toothpastes can significantly reduce pain when consuming hot and cold beverages and improve overall oral health.
- Change your mouthwash – some mouthwashes are hard on teeth, but there are many fluoridated mouthwashes that can reduce sensitivity without irritating the sensitive tissues in the dentin or pulp layers of teeth.
- Wear a mouthguard – if you regularly grind or clench your teeth at night, make sure you wear a mouthguard to avoid unnecessary dental wear and decrease your risk for chips and cracks in teeth.
How Dentists Can Help with Dental Sensitivity
If your dental sensitivity doesn’t improve after a few days or it gets worse, you should contact our team to find out more about professional treatments to improve comfort. Some of the options we may recommend include:
- Fluoride therapy – at-home applications of fluoride treatments and toothpastes that combine fluoride with other ingredients like carboxymethyl cellulose, hydroxyethyl cellulose, and polyethylene glycol have been proven to decrease dental sensitivity. Additionally, your dentist may recommend in-office silver diamine fluoride application during your six month dental exams to decrease chronic dental sensitivity.
- Root canal – severe toothache and sensitivity often occurs as the result of damage or decay accessing the sensitive nerve structures inside the pulp layers of teeth. When this occurs, we’ll need perform an advanced restorative dental treatment called root canal therapy. This procedure involves removing the damaged nerve and pulp tissue. Then, we disinfect and refill the inside of the tooth. Finally, a dental crown is placed to strengthen and protect the root canal treated tooth.
- Gum grafts – if gum disease and receding soft tissue exposes the tooth roots causing dental sensitivity, we may recommend a gum graft. This surgical procedure will protect the tooth roots, improve overall health, and eliminate sensitivity.
- Dental restorations – if there is a crack, chip, or cavity, we will repair the tooth, using a tooth-colored filling, inlay, onlay, or dental crown. This will protect your damaged tooth and improve sensitivity.
Grab the Hot & Cold Drinks
At the end of the day, the goal of this blog is to help you find a practical answer to your questions about sensitivity when drinking hot or cold beverages. If mild sensitivity to temperature is keeping you away from enjoying your favorite drinks, your body is telling you something. Listen. It is giving you an early warning signal that your teeth need some attention, so get in touch with our team to take care of the problem before it becomes severe.
Meet the McCarl Dental Group
Since 1924, the McCarl Dental Group has offered Greenbelt dental patients help with achieving and maintaining their optimal level of oral health. If you have a tooth that’s sensitive to cold and hot beverages, our knowledgeable dentists and dentistry team can help you relieve the pain and restore your smile. Each of our dentists brings years of education and experience to the dental office along with a dedication to continue the McCarl family’s tradition of providing exceptional dentistry services