Here in Canada, it can get extremely cold in the winter months, and not surprisingly, I have more patients who complain of sensitive teeth during the freezing winter months. But why do teeth hurt in cold weather?
Cold weather causes teeth to hurt because the cold air causes rapid temperature fluctuations when the cold air enters the mouth. Temperature fluctuation causes the different tooth layers to contract at different times and cause pain similar to sensitive teeth from drinking cold liquids.
Read on to learn why weather changes impact the teeth and cause the teeth to hurt, how to stop teeth from hurting in cold weather, and when it is wise to have a dental professional take a look and investigate why the teeth hurt so much and rule out underlying issues.
Weather changes and tooth pain; Why the cold makes teeth hurt
The teeth have multiple layers.
The different layers are made of different substances and react to temperature fluctuations differently.
The crown of the tooth is covered in a protective layer of enamel. Enamel is like a protective helmet on the top of the tooth, preventing sensitivity and making the teeth appear more white. Enamel is the hardest substance in our body and is 96% minerals.
There is a layer of dentin underneath the enamel, which is less hard than enamel but has a greater force resistance to cushion our biting forces.
Because the layers of the tooth are different densities, it can stimulate the nerve of the tooth, sending a pain signal to the brain telling us “OUCH” that hurts.
But what about fillings/restorations on the teeth?
Tooth fillings and restorations can contract at different rates, which can also cause tooth sensitivity. For example, amalgam fillings (metal fillings) can put pressure on the teeth because they contract differently than natural tooth structures.
Dentin exposure can enhance tooth sensitivity
When the enamel is lost for various reasons, or there is root exposure, it can leave the softer layer of dentin underneath exposed.
If you looked at dentin underneath a microscope, you would see the microscopic dentin tubules, which are hollow canals that extend towards the inner tooth where the nerve is.
The tubules allow the cold air to reach the nerve faster, causing sensitivity. Also, the temperature changes can cause these structures to contract and expand, stimulating the tooth’s nerve, again causing sensitivity.
Cold is the most common reason for tooth sensitivity whether it be from the freezing air outside, or cold food and drink.
When I have a patient experiencing tooth sensitivity, I always go over the reasons for tooth sensitivity, as I have explained to you in this post, and I go over some habits that they should avoid.
Put down the whitening toothpaste!
Overuse of whitening toothpaste, clenching and grinding, chipped and cracked teeth, erosion of enamel from acidic food and drinks, and root exposure can contribute to more tooth sensitivity. All of the listed things can wear down the tooth surface, exposing more dentin.
In my dental chair;
I had a patient come to see me after several years. He hadn’t been to the dental office in over three years.
When a patient sits in my chair, I always ask them if they have any concerns or issues in their mouth that need to be looked at. So I asked this patient about his chief complaint.
His chief complaint was how yellow his front teeth were.
Upon inspection, I noticed that almost all of the enamel on his front teeth was gone, and the yellow dentin layer underneath was showing through.
I explained what I found and showed him in the mirror and compared his front teeth to the adjacent teeth, indicating the stark contrast between the teeth.
We discussed his oral habits, and it turned out he had been using a whitening toothpaste and brushing his front teeth a third time during the day. He said he really scrubbed because he thought it would make his teeth more white, but it actually made them more yellow.
Because of the enamel loss, his front teeth were much more susceptible to cold, and they became more sensitive.
How to stop teeth from hurting in cold weather
If you can’t stand the tooth pain that cold air is causing, there are a few things that you can do to prevent and stop the teeth from hurting in cold weather.
Breathe through your nose
Breathing through the nose and keeping the mouth shut will help insulate the teeth and create a barrier from the cold air. The warmth from the lips and cheeks will prevent the teeth from coming in contact with the cold air and prevent rapid temperature fluctuations.
If breathing through your nose is not possible, you could wear a scarf around your mouth or even a mask.
Use a sensitive toothpaste with potassium nitrate
The best toothpaste for sensitive teeth is Sensodyne. Hands down, I will never use another toothpaste.
Sensodyne has not endorsed me, paid me, or done anything with me for me to promote their product. I genuinely believe in their product, and the effectiveness speaks for itself.
The original Fresh Mint Sensodyne is the best toothpaste for sensitivity that I get my patients to try first. It has the highest available amount of potassium nitrate to help desensitize the tooth than other toothpaste Sensodyne makes.
Potassium nitrate desensitizes the tooth by blocking the nerve from firing the pain signal to the brain. However, it needs to be regularly used two times a day for at least two weeks to be the most effective.
Here is the link to the Sensodyne Fresh Mint toothpaste on Amazon, so you know exactly which one I am talking about! 🙂 Or you can find it below as well.
As well, especially important for nighttime use before bed, after brushing the teeth, do not rinse with water, eat or drink after. Just spit.
Doing so will leave a thin layer of active ingredients on the tooth surface overnight to be even more effective.
Sensodyne also makes a toothpaste called rapid relief, which helps block the dentin tubules, acting as a band-aid to prevent sensitivity. It is recommended that the toothpaste is rubbed/dabbed into the tooth for at least 30 seconds with a finger to help push the product into the tubules.
Here is the link to the Sensodyne Rapid Relief on Amazon, or you could click below too!
Ask your dental professional to desensitize your teeth
There are professional-grade products that we (dental professionals) can put on teeth that will help to desensitize the teeth.
When the tooth is desensitized, the pain signal cannot fire to the brain. Therefore you will never feel the pain, or it will be improved.
Depending on the individual, desensitizing may last from one month to a year.
Avoid all whitening toothpaste
As I mentioned before, whitening toothpaste is abrasive and can wear down the teeth over time. I never recommend whitening toothpaste to my patients because of its abrasive quality.
The best way to whiten teeth is to prevent the stain in the first place. But to whiten the teeth and change the colour of the tooth surface, it must be done by using products that have peroxide in them. Products that contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide are the only products that will change the colour of the teeth.
The best over-the-counter teeth whitening product is the Crest Whitestrips. Below I linked a post I wrote all about Crest Whitestrips!
Avoid acidic food and drink
Not only can acidic food and drink stimulate the nerve of the tooth, but it can also dissolve and erode the tooth structure, leaving it more susceptible to dentin exposure and increasing sensitivity over time.
I always cringe when I see influencers or people out and about drinking lemon water. I just want to tell them to stop drinking lemon water right then and there. It could be one of the worst things you could do for your teeth, especially when consumed slowly over the day.
If I have a patient who loves lemon water and will not stop, I tell them to drink it as fast as they can (chug it even) and rinse their mouth out with water after to help rinse away the acid.
When you should seek a dental professionals opinion.
Normal pain from hypersensitive teeth can be short and sharp, which comes on quickly and subsides quickly. If you are experiencing sensitivity in this regard, I wouldn’t be too concerned. However, it is not a bad idea to mention it to your dental professional the next time you see them.
If the pain is more consistent and does not go away, the pain may indicate an underlying issue with the teeth. The dentist should check the tooth in multiple ways to rule out a possible more serious underlying condition.
The dentist may test the teeth by using a really cold substance to check the vitality of the tooth’s nerve.
The dentist may also ask you to bite down on a plastic stick-like instrument. We call it a tooth slooth. It is placed on different locations of the tooth (for example, a specific cusp on a molar) to check if there may be a fracture in the tooth.
They also may tap on the tooth with an instrument to see if you have percussion sensitivity. The dentist will compare the tooth’s response to the teeth beside it.
An x-ray called a periapical might also be taken to check on the entire tooth, including the root tip. This x-ray can show an infection at the root tip and a possible fracture in the tooth.
I hope you can find relief from tooth pain, and the information I’ve given you today helps!
Have a wonderful day.