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

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

Quick – what's your favorite room-temperature food or beverage? It would be no surprise 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 World Health Organization (WHO), tooth decay levels are exceptionally high in the United States and the rest of the Americas due to the level of sugars and fermentable carbohydrates consumed here. When those things aren't cleaned off your teeth, bacteria feed on them and form plaque. Sensitivity to hot and cold foods is often a warning sign that a cavity is forming and that 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 as a result of acid reflux, bulimia, chronic vomiting from pregnancy, alcoholism, it can become weaker as you age, and chlorine can erode your teeth if you're a regular swimmer. According to the American Dental Association, 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of adults in the US over 30 have gum disease. 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 suggest a root canal. According to the American Association of Endodontists, "25 million root canal procedures are performed every year."

What You Can Do To Treat Tooth Sensitivity

In some cases, the causes of tooth sensitivity can be reversed by practicing 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 mouthrinse and a tongue scraper. And be sure to see your dental professional for regular checkups 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 mouthrinse 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 American Association of Endodontists (AAE) suggests seeing your dental professional if your sensitivity lingers more than 30 seconds after coming in contact with an extreme temperature or if your tooth pain is ongoing or severe. These are all signs that you could have a cavity, exposed nerves, infection, or 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 center 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 gumline.

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 practicing 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 checkup. 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.


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This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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