Sensitive Teeth to Cold: What You Should Know

Sensitive teeth to cold is a very common problem. According to the International Dental Journal, nearly 57 percent of adults between the ages of 20 to 50 report having sensitive teeth. The good news is that these types of conditions are easily reversible, and sufferers now have more choices to help alleviate their sensitive teeth. Although many find relief from a special toothpaste, occasionally dental treatment is necessary.

Causes of Sensitive Teeth

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) Mouth Healthy site, tooth sensitivity can be caused by a number of factors. Most cold sensitivity occurs at or near the neck of the tooth or gumline. Often the part of the tooth that becomes sensitive is the dentin that is exposed due to the wearing of the outer protective layers of enamel and cementum. However, sensitivity could also result from a cavity, a lost or loose filling, or an exposed root surface. The majority of sufferers fall into the latter category.

How Roots Become Exposed

Your teeth are covered by a layer of enamel, which the BBC classifies as the hardest substance in the body. This enamel surface covers the part of the tooth above the gumline; however, the root, which doesn't have this hard protective enamel layer, can become exposed for various reasons. The root is covered by cementum, and beneath this layer, dentin. It is the microscopic dentinal tubules that transmit the temperatures of the foods that we eat straight to the nerve cells of the tooth. Suddenly, you can have teeth sensitive to cold. What causes the root exposure? The ADA identifies the following factors:

  • Improper toothbrushing
  • Clenching or grinding of teeth
  • Erosion due to acid and
  • Orthodontic treatment

Types of Treatment

The best treatment will depend on the severity of your sensitivity, as well as other elements. Your dentist or dental hygienist will evaluate your condition and suggest treatment options that are right for you. Whether they're for use at home or in the dental chair, these treatments could include one or a combination of the following:

  • Toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth
  • In-office or home fluoride treatments
  • Dietary changes
  • Crowns or bonded fillings to cover the exposed area
  • Gum grafting to cover the receding gum
  • Root canal treatment

Fluoride is another tool to alleviate sensitive teeth. It can be dispensed in various ways, from a prescription-strength paste or varnish to OTC rinses. Fluoride works by strengthening the enamel and dentin, thus reducing sensitivity. These less invasive fluoride treatments should be combined with a good home care regimen that includes proper toothbrushing with a soft-bristle toothbrush. Proper nutrition is important too, because a diet that frequently includes acidic foods and drinks can contribute to or aggravate sensitivity.

More involved treatment includes dental work that restores and protects the exposed root or lost tooth structure. Your dentist will recommend the best treatment, and it may include referrals to other dental specialists.

Sensitive teeth to cold and other types of food are a very common problem. It can cause a subsequent fear of dental treatment and improper dietary choices, allowing many to suffer unnecessarily. Fortunately, with new research, prescriptions and OTC remedies, your sensitivity could be instantly alleviated. The first step is to schedule an appointment with your dental professional, who has the knowledge and the tools to assess and treat your individual need. Diminishing or eliminating sensitive teeth will have a positive effect on your oral and overall health.

About the author: Donna Rounsaville, RDH, BS, has been a dental hygienist in private practice for 31 years. She has used her experience with the prevention of dental problems and the importance of healthy eating to educate children in local schools in her hometown of Flemington, New Jersey. Donna is also passionate about infection control and office safety for dental workers, providing yearly training to her office colleagues. Active with the Girl Scouts as a leader and with children's liturgy at her church, Donna uses her communication and leadership skills to motivate young people in her community. She has been writing for Colgate since 2013.

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