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Why your teeth hurt in cold weather

Woman outside in snow

As the temperatures drop, are your teeth feeling the chill? Cold air and blasts of icy wind can sting your face and zap your teeth. Find out what’s behind this painful phenomenon and what you can do to protect your mouth.

What causes cold sensitivity?

Contraction and expansion

Did you know that your front teeth can change as much as 120 degrees in temperature? Exposure to cold air — and hot foods — can be rough on teeth. Just like other materials, your teeth expand and contract as they change in temperature. As the inside and outside of your teeth adjust, little cracks can emerge. These cracks usually don’t affect tooth structure, but they can be uncomfortable. And if you have amalgam fillings, the discomfort may be worse. Metal expands and contracts more quickly than natural teeth do.

Exposed dentin

If the enamel, or the outside layer of your teeth, has started to wear away to reveal the dentin below, your teeth can become very sensitive. Without the protection of your enamel, the nerves inside your tooth are more exposed to the elements.

How to stop the pain

What can you do to get relief? First, talk to your dentist. A look inside your mouth — and possibly a new set of x-rays — can help your dentist figure out what’s causing the problem.

In some cases, switching to sensitive toothpaste may be all you need. Or, your dentist may paint a protective varnish onto your teeth.

In other cases, the pain may be a sign of something more serious. Cavities can also increase sensitivity, especially if the infection has reached the pulp, the heart of your tooth. Your dentist may perform a pulp vitality test to check the health of your teeth. This test involves placing a hot or cold instrument on each tooth — or asking you to bite down — to see how your teeth respond to temperature changes and pressure.

In the meantime, you can reduce the pain by breathing through your nose when you’re outside and brushing and flossing regularly to fight decay. Avoid whitening treatments and acidic foods, which can increase sensitivity.

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Published: December 2017