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Tooth Sensitive To Hot Or Cold? What It Means And How To Help

Quick question – what's your favourite room-temperature food or beverage? It wouldn't be surprising if it took you a moment to come up with an answer. Most things you eat and drink are best enjoyed either hot or cold, so it can be rather limiting if you have tooth sensitivity. But temperature sensitivity is more than just an inconvenience at meal-time. It can also signal that you have a condition that needs to be treated by your dental professional. If you're experiencing tooth sensitivity, we'll lay out the possible causes and how you can effectively treat them so you can continue eating and drinking the delicious things that make you smile.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity When Drinking Hot Liquids?

There are various potential causes for your tooth sensitivity, like:

  • Tooth decay
    According to the Canadian Academy of Dental Hygiene foods high in sugars and starches contribute to tooth decay. When those foods aren't cleaned off your teeth, bacteria feed on them and form plaque, which leads to cavities. Sensitivity to hot and cold foods is often a warning sign that a cavity is forming and it's time to make an appointment to see your dentist.
  • Worn tooth enamel
    The outer layer of your teeth is a protective surface called enamel. Unlike cavities, erosion is not caused by bacteria. Enamel can erode from: an acidic or sugary diet, acid reflux, bulimia, chronic vomiting from pregnancy, alcoholism, aging, and chlorine if you're a regular swimmer. According to the National Institute of Health, there are also industrial and occupational risks that can wear away tooth enamel.
  • A cracked tooth
    A chipped or cracked tooth can expose nerves inside your tooth, causing sensitivity to increase.
  • Worn or loose fillings
    If a filling becomes worn, cracked or loose, it may no longer be effective in protecting the nerves under the area of tooth decay.
  • Gum disease
    According to the Canadian Dental Association 7/10 Canadians will experience gum disease in their lifetime. This bacterial infection can cause inflammation of your gums and tooth sensitivity. If untreated, the condition can affect the tissue and bone that support your teeth, causing them to loosen or even fall out.
  • Gum recession
    When your gums recede, the cementum layer covering your roots can wear away, and the sensitive dentin layer which is underneath becomes exposed. Some gum recession causes include gum disease, overzealous brushing, tobacco use, misaligned teeth, tooth grinding and orthodontic work.
  • Infection
    In some cases, sensitivity can be the result of an infection deep into the tooth. If this is the cause of your sensitivity, your dentist may even suggest a root canal. According to the Canadian Dental Association, root canals are routinely successfully performed by dental professionals across Canada.

What You Can Do To Treat Tooth Sensitivity

In some cases, the causes of tooth sensitivity can be reversed by practising good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day. Floss or clean between your teeth with interdental brushes or water flossers at least once a day; use an antimicrobial mouth rinse and a tongue scraper. And be sure to see your dental professional for regular check-ups so they can catch any developing conditions early.

Depending on the cause and severity of the condition responsible for your tooth sensitivity, your dental professional may recommend a toothpaste or mouth rinse for sensitive teeth. These products contain ingredients that can help you numb your nerve endings and strengthen your tooth enamel.

When Should You Get Professional Treatment?

The Ontario Dental Association suggests talking with your dental professional if you experience tooth sensitivity as it could be a sign of gum disease. You could also have a cavity, exposed nerves, infection or progressed gum disease that's severe enough that you'll need professional treatment, which may include:

  • An inlay, bonding or crown placement
    If you have a fractured, damaged or decaying tooth, your dental professional may repair it with one of these procedures.
  • Application of fluoride gel
    Fluoride gel will strengthen your tooth enamel and reduce the number of pain signals sent to your brain.
  • Root canal procedure
    Your dental professional may perform a root canal procedure to remove infected or inflamed tooth pulp in the centre of the tooth where the nerves and blood vessels are. Then, they will fill and seal it.
  • Surgical gum graft
    If your gums have receded, a small amount of tissue can be removed from the roof of your mouth and grafted to your gum line.

If you're experiencing sensitivity in your teeth when you're trying to enjoy hot or cold treats, the good news is your condition is treatable. By practising good oral hygiene, you may be able to reverse the condition on your own. And if you have tooth sensitivity that is ongoing or concerns you, don't wait for your next check-up. Get in for an appointment right away. Your dental professional will be able to diagnose the cause and give you the treatment you need so you can get back to enjoying food and beverages of any temperature. Now, that's something to smile about.