Yesterday, everything was fine. Today, out of the blue, a bite of ice cream, a sip of lemonade, a breath of fresh air sent you reeling. All of a sudden, cold has become painful; an intensely unpleasant sensation starts in your teeth with exposure to cold. When a tooth is sensitive to cold, that sensitivity can intrude frequently into your day, lessening the joy in some of life’s simple pleasures (summer ice cream cones anyone?) or just interfering with the flow of living your life. So, why do teeth become sensitive to cold and what can you do to alleviate the sensitivity?
One Tooth is Sensitive to Cold: Is It Complications From Dental Caries?
There are a couple of ways that dental caries (cavities) can cause or contribute to tooth sensitivity. If you are experiencing a sudden onset of sensitivity in a single tooth or between two teeth, it’s possible that a weak spot in the enamel has opened up and is letting irritants into the tooth through the infection’s hole. The other way that dental caries can cause sensitivity in a tooth is after it has been treated. Sometimes, your tooth can be sensitive to cold after a filling. Usually, the discomfort is just residual from having the filling done, and it clears up on its own in a few days.
Next Steps: Check With the Pros
If you think you have a cavity developing, it’s time to call your dental care team. They will likely do an exam and may recommend an X-ray to check for signs of a cavity. If you’ve just had a filling and the sensitivity is not subsiding or is particularly bothersome, you may need additional care. Your dentist may need to adjust the surface of the filling to realign your bite so the teeth will come together without a high pressure point. In rare cases, a filling can cause inflammation of the pulp, the inner layer of the tooth. Your dentist can help you evaluate your discomfort and guide you through any steps appropriate to your individual circumstances.
All Teeth/ Bottom Teeth/Upper Teeth Only: How is Your Gum Health?
Possibly the most common cause of tooth sensitivity is gum recession. When the gums pull back from the root surfaces, the newly exposed root area is susceptible to aggravation from hot, cold, sweet, or acidic conditions. It’s also common to only experience tooth sensitivity for some of those conditions, or even just one of those conditions, like cold. The tubules—tube-like structures that go between layers of the teeth into the sensitive pulp—are exposed by the gum recession and are susceptible to pressure changes caused by eating or drinking sweets, cold or hot drinks or foods, and by eating acidic foods.
Gum recession can happen for a few reasons, but it is frequently caused by gum disease. Red, irritated, swollen gums that bleed easily, particularly during brushing or flossing, are indicators of potential gum disease, either gingivitis or periodontitis. It’s also common to have gum recession after extensive orthodontic treatment such as braces.
Next Steps: Consider Home Treatment Options
If your teeth are only sensitive to cold water and other icy beverages, you might consider behavioral changes like not drinking beverages with ice or using a straw so that the ice doesn’t come into contact with tooth surfaces. There is also evidence that fluoride treatment is helpful in managing tooth sensitivity. Sensitive toothpaste can sometimes help lessen sensitive tooth pain, but there’s a reason that the tube of toothpaste tells you to check with your dentist if the pain lasts more than two weeks.
If Your Tooth is Sensitive to Cold, Seek Treatment
It’s a good idea to get a check-up with your dental care team any time you’re experiencing pain in your teeth to make sure that you’re not missing an early warning sign of a serious problem. If home treatments aren’t doing enough to help you manage your sensitive tooth pain, your dental care team may be able to provide solutions like bonding, an in-office procedure where resin is applied over the exposed root surface, protecting the exposed tubules.
Sensitive tooth pain is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but it’s not inevitable. Talk to your dental care team for help and advice specific to your situation so you can have a healthy, pain-free smile.