Fact Checked

Why is My Tooth Sensitive to Cold and Hot Temperatures?

Written by Fernanda Elizalde

July 22, 2022

Medically Reviewed

By Dr. Brian Harris, DDS

Tooth sensitivity can be frustrating since it can make you feel limited in the types of foods you can enjoy. You may notice that your teeth become sensitive and tingly when you sip cold drinks or eat cold foods. Sensitive teeth may also react to hot temperatures as well.

If your teeth have a cold sensitivity towards frigid or hot temps, it could be for many reasons. You could have naturally cold-sensitive teeth, gum disease, or a cavity.

Exposure to cold air and snowy weather can cause sensitive teeth to tingle.

Why are my teeth sensitive to cold/hot?

If you've been wondering why your teeth are temperature sensitive, this article will cover possible causes and helpful remedies to fix sensitive teeth. Here are common causes that make a tooth sensitive to cold or hot temperatures.

Tooth decay

Advanced tooth decay can cause sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures. Enamel protects your teeth; when bacteria sits on the teeth for too long, it permeates that protective layer. Once tooth decay has advanced to a certain degree, it could expose the tooth to extreme temperatures. Tooth cracks, cavities, and abscesses are all signs of tooth damage.

Damaged tooth enamel

Healthy teeth are protected by strong tooth enamel. As mentioned, the enamel is the protective outer layer that shields dentin, the yellowish tissue that supports and strengthens tooth structure. Damaged tooth enamel can make it easier for hot and cold temperatures to reach the nerve. Since the protective covering has been breached, making you more susceptible to tooth sensitivity.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis is the first stage of gum disease. It's a common condition that millions of Americans struggle with. Early stages of gum disease may cause red, puffy, and inflamed gums. You may also experience bleeding when brushing or flossing your teeth. The gum line is one the first ways your body warns you of gingivitis. If your teeth are cold-sensitive due to gum disease, it's essential to treat it as soon as possible to avoid periodontitis, a more advanced form of gum disease that can result in tooth loss.

Receding gums

Gums recede with age and due to gum disease. Gum recession can expose the tooth root making it more sensitive to cold and heat. If you notice that you have 'longer' teeth, shrinking gums, and bad breath, your gums are likely receding. The best way to avoid receding gums is by practicing good oral hygiene.

Brushing your teeth too hard

If you're brushing your teeth too aggressively, it could lead to tooth pain and tooth sensitivity. Brushing too hard can wear down your enamel and irritate your gum line. Avoid hard-bristled toothbrushes or products that are too harsh on your teeth and gums. By preserving the protective enamel layer on your teeth and brushing gently, you'll be less likely to struggle with cold sensitivity.

Grinding and clenching

Many people struggle with teeth grinding and clenching. It may happen unconsciously when you're sleeping or in stressful situations. Over time, grinding teeth can wear down both the enamel and dentin. This leads to potential nerve pain and sensitive teeth since the teeth start to become exposed to extreme temperatures.

Excessive use of teeth whitening products

Teeth whitening products are a safe and effective way to whiten your teeth. However, like with anything in life, too much of a good thing can turn bad into a bad thing. Teeth whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching agent that lightens your pearly whites. Some people are more sensitive to teeth whitening products and should use them more moderately.

They are meant to be used as directed, doubling or tripling up the number of times you use a whitening product may yield external results faster, but it could also cause damage to your teeth. If you experience teeth sensitivity to any dental products, it's best to ask your dentist if you should continue using that product.

Poor oral hygiene

Poor oral hygiene is the leading cause of most oral health issues and dental decay. Plaque and bacteria buildup can cause your teeth to be sensitive to cold and hot foods. Your tooth roots may also become more sensitive or infected if you're not consistent with brushing your teeth, flossing, and using mouthwash. Poor dental habits can also lead to gingivitis, advanced gum disease, and expensive dental work.

How to care for sensitive teeth

Solutions for sensitive teeth include dental treatments and at-home remedies. The dental treatment you'll need will depend on your unique situation since tooth sensitivity treatment varies by individual.

Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush gently

The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush. A soft-bristled brush is gentle on your teeth and gum line but is still effective at removing food particles and polishing your teeth. You'll see different types fancy of toothbrushes, but always remember, soft bristles are the way to go.

You'll still want to brush gently in order to protect your outer tooth layer. This will ensure teeth hurt less (or ideally not at all) when you're consuming hot or cold food.

Use toothpaste for sensitive teeth

There are tons of products specifically formulated for sensitive teeth. Getting a toothpaste that is safe for sensitive teeth and strengthens tooth enamel will help further protect your teeth.

A desensitizing toothpaste also has ingredients that prevent certain sensations from reaching the tooth nerve. It may take up to four weeks for a desensitizing toothpaste to go into full effect. After a few weeks, you'll start to notice less teeth sensitivity. Your dentist may also provide you with a prescription-grade treatment to reduce sensitivity.

Modify the way you eat hot and cold foods

Whether you're sipping on a hot coffee or indulging in a delicious ice cream cone, the way you eat and drink your food can be modified to reduce tooth sensitivity.

Drink hot or cold beverages with a straw and try not to lick cold foods such as ice cream or ice, if you're sensitive to cold temperatures. These simple modifications help make eating your favorite foods more enjoyable while you find the underlying cause behind your sensitive teeth.

Avoid acidic foods and sugars

Avoid acidic drinks and foods such as lemon juice, soda, coffee, energy drinks, tomatoes, and oranges. These foods are highly erosive and can be harmful to your teeth. Sugary and starchy foods also promote bacteria overgrowth. Bacteria buildup can lead to cavities, infection, and tooth decay.

These foods wear away at your teeth and can cause enamel loss and tooth sensitivity as a result. Acidic and sweet-tasting treats should be enjoyed sparingly. Eat them with other foods to lessen their eroding effects.

The American Dental Association recommends that you brush your teeth 1 hour after eating acidic foods to give your saliva some time to wash away acids and restore your enamel naturally. Drink sugary or acidic drinks with a straw, and do not swish them in your mouth. These mindful habits can help protect your teeth

Protect your teeth

If you struggle with teeth grinding or clenching, consider investing in a mouthguard. There are over-the-counter mouthguards and custom-fitted mouthguards. A custom mouthguard is created by a dental professional. An impression of your teeth is taken and then personal dental trays are printed for you.

Though custom dental trays are more expensive, they are worth the higher price since they fit properly. It'll be easier to protect your teeth from further damage if your dental trays are comfortable.

Dental Treatment

If home remedies and certain treatments aren't soothing sensitive teeth, you may need to visit your dentist's office for dental work. A more advanced oral diagnosis may require one of the treatments below.

  • Dental crown. If a sensitive tooth is cracked or decayed the tooth roots are vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Dental crowns are used to fix a broken tooth and restore your structure. This will help restore your bite and oral health. If a sensitive tooth is cracked or decayed the tooth roots are vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

  • Fillings. Dental fillings are used to fill cavities and fix small cracks and chips. This will help protect tooth roots by preventing further decay.

  • Root canal. A root canal can save a badly decayed or infected tooth. The infected tooth pulp is removed, and the inside of your tooth is cleaned and sealed afterward. A tooth that needs a root canal may show signs of an abscess and be more sensitive to cold/hot temperatures and chewing pressure. Root canal therapy can help fix sensitive teeth and eliminate uncomfortable symptoms.

  • Fluoride gel treatment. Your dentist may use a prescription-grade fluoride gel to desensitize and protect sensitive teeth. It's a safe and effective way to care for a sensitive tooth. This professional dental procedure strengthens enamel and reduces sensitivity.

When to see a dentist

If you notice that your tooth sensitivity to cold and hot temperatures persists for several weeks and continues to intensify, make a dental appointment immediately. Visiting a dental office will ensure x-rays are taken, and a thorough dental exam is performed. Your dentist will help you get on the right treatment plan. Teeth sensitive to cold and hot conditions are treatable.

Occasional sensitivity is normal, but it shouldn't interfere with your quality of life or enjoying your favorite treats, snacks, and beverages. Thankfully, strong and resilient healthy teeth are attainable.