Why Are My Teeth Sensitive to Hot and Cold?

man in pain with tooth sensitivity to cold drinkYour tooth is an intricate structure that consists of thousands of tiny pores (tubules) and nerves. So, it’s no surprise that sometimes people experience tooth sensitivity to cold. Especially if you drink a tall glass of ice water or happen to be smiling outside when it’s below freezing.  

The difference between cold and hot sensitivity is a big one. One can be fairly normal. The other, a warning sign. 

What Is Tooth Sensitivity

To understand what makes a tooth sensitive to cold or hot temperatures, we first need to break down the anatomy of its structure. 

Tooth Crown: Anatomical crowns are the visible portion of your teeth that extend above the gums. They’re white because they’re covered in enamel. 

Tooth Root: This is the bottom portion of your tooth, which is ideally submerged within the gums and bone structure. It makes up to 2/3 of the length of your tooth. Roots do not have enamel covering them. As such, they’re extremely sensitive. 

Enamel: The hard, white, outer layer of tooth structure that covers the crown. It’s what you see when you smile or open your mouth. The enamel tapers off at the gum line and does not cover the roots. Enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. However, it can be eroded over time through grinding, aggressive toothbrushing, acidic diets, and tooth decay.

Dentin: The largest portion of your tooth is made up of dentin. If your roots are exposed, you’ll see the dentin. Unlike enamel, dentin is more yellow in colour. Dentin is extremely sensitive to stimuli and temperature changes. If you have gum recession, expect your roots to become exposed and sensitive.

Cementum: This extremely thin layer of tooth structure covers the dentin and provides an attachment surface for the gum tissues. It does not provide much protection to the root underneath and can easily be worn away by tooth brushing when exposed by gum recession.

Pulp/Nerve: This is the blood supply and nervous tissue that runs through the middle of your tooth and out the tip of the root. It’s what keeps your tooth nourished and alive. 

Tubules: Tiny porous openings that cover the tooth and house tiny nerve endings. They are not visible to the naked eye. Whitening products tend to “open” these tubules, which can make them more susceptible to sensitivity in the short term. 

So why do teeth hurt with cold or hot stimuli? As you might guess, enamel helps protect your tooth against bacteria, acids, sensitivity, and tooth wear. But when the enamel is eroded — by things like tooth decay and brushing too aggressively — or gum tissue starts to recede and expose the dentin, it can result in tooth sensitivity.

10 Reasons That Makes A Tooth Sensitive to Cold and Hot

Here are some of the most common reasons why you might have a tooth sensitive to cold temperatures:

  1. Gum recession
  2. Enamel erosion
  3. Toothbrush abrasion
  4. Teeth grinding and clenching (bruxism)
  5. Whitening products

When it comes to teeth sensitive to hot temperatures, the cause is typically related to risks like:

  1. Abscesses
  2. Irreversible nerve damage or tooth trauma
  3. Deep cracks in the tooth
  4. Large areas of decay
  5. Changes to your bite

As you might guess, it can take a bit of detective work to pinpoint the exact causes of your sensitivity. Our Ottawa dentist can look over your teeth and gums for any obvious signs or may decide to take an X-ray to further evaluate the structures inside or around the roots of your teeth. Since dental abscesses or cracked roots may not be visible from the outside, it’s essential to communicate with us about the frequency and extent of your tooth pain. 

How To Treat Tooth Sensitivity

The best treatment for teeth sensitive to hot or cold will depend on the exact symptoms and cause. For instance, tooth sensitivity to cold can sometimes be managed with a special toothpaste (formulated exactly for the purposes of tooth sensitivity) or a desensitizing treatment. It might mean cutting back on how often you’re whitening your teeth. Alternately, if your roots are exposed because of gum recession, a combination of gum grafting and/or other types of periodontal therapy may be recommended. 

With heat sensitivity, treatment is entirely different. Managing heat-related tooth pain isn’t something that you can (or should) do on your own. Rather, it’s crucial to have the tooth evaluated for signs of infection. Badly decayed teeth can cause the inner nerve of your tooth to be compromised. Heat sensitivity is often a red flag for pulp/nerve damage. Endodontic therapy (root canal treatment) may be the best solution to prevent additional damage and tooth loss. 

When to See Your Dentist 

Occasionally having teeth hurt with cold foods — like biting into ice cream — isn’t something to usually worry about. However, when you have a tooth sensitive to cold stimuli several times in a row, it’s important to see your dental provider. In most cases, earlier treatment tends to have a better prognosis. Waiting too long to have your tooth examined could allow the underlying issue to evolve into a more complex situation. Especially with heat sensitivity.

For cold sensitivity, consider cutting out whitening toothpastes or products for about a week. Use sensitivity toothpaste for two weeks. If symptoms subside, things should be ok enough to wait until your routine checkup for a dental evaluation. 

If you feel heat sensitivity, call our Ottawa dentist to schedule an appointment. Since heat sensitivity can tend to be a more “serious” condition than cold sensitivity, it’s important to have it looked after as soon as possible. 

Relief for Sensitive Teeth

Parkdale Dental Centre provides a variety of solutions for your sensitive teeth needs. From prescription toothpaste to endodontic therapy, we will help you find the best treatment for your smile! Call us today.