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Why Does Drinking Hot or Cold Beverages Hurt My Tooth?

September 28, 2023

Typically, tooth sensitivity is caused by exposure of the dentin, or middle layer, of the affected tooth. This usually is due to enamel erosion and gum recession. Your tooth roots, which are not protected by enamel, contain tubules that lead to the center of your tooth, where the dental pulp is.
Dental pulp is made up of blood vessels and nerves which keep your teeth healthy. If a tooth is damaged, the stimuli (heat/cold, sweets) can reach the nerves, which is what causes pain.
In some cases, tooth sensitivity is an indication of other issues including cavities, gum disease, and more.

Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity is a common problem, with up to 33% of the population reporting it. This condition is most common among adults between the ages of 20 to 40 and women are more likely than men to report it. There are several potential causes of sensitivity, including:

  • Tooth decay
  • Gum disease
  • Brushing too hard
  • Clenching/grinding teeth
  • Gum recession
  • Cracked teeth
  • Certain dental procedures
  • Highly acidic diet
  • Chronic oral health issues

What Makes a Tooth Sensitive to Cold

The most common reasons a tooth is sensitive to cold temperatures includes:

  • Tooth Decay: bacteria eat away at the tooth enamel, which creates holes in the enamel, allowing the bacteria to move into the dentin and dental pulp
  • Gum Disease: gum disease causes gum recession, which exposes the tooth roots to the stimuli that causes tooth sensitivity
  • Brushing Too Hard: if you brush aggressively or use a firm-bristled toothbrush, you can cause enamel erosion, which exposes the dentin layer of your teeth. This can also cause gum recession, which exposes the tooth roots to stimuli that triggers sensitivity
  • Teeth Clenching/Grinding: clenching/grinding of teeth, also known as bruxism, can cause enamel erosion, which exposes the dentin and ultimately the dental pulp
  • Gum Tissue Recession: poor oral hygiene habits as well as genetics can cause gums to recede which exposes the tooth roots to the stimuli that cause sensitivity
  • Cracks in Teeth: when teeth are cracked/chipped, bacteria and stimuli can reach the dentin and dental pulp, causing sensitivity

What Makes a Tooth Sensitive to Heat

The most common reasons a tooth is sensitive to heat include:

  • Recent dental treatments: dental procedures such as cleanings, dental fillings, and placement of dental restorations can cause tooth sensitivity that can last up to 6 weeks.
  • Highly acidic diet: highly acidic foods such as tomatoes, tea, pickles, and citrus fruits can cause enamel erosion
  • Chronic Oral Health Concerns: if you’ve had oral health concerns in the past, you may be at a higher risk of developing tooth sensitivity

Home Remedies for Tooth Sensitivity

If you have sensitive teeth and you’ve been to the dentist to ensure that there are no underlying concerns, there are some things you can do at home to reduce your tooth sensitivity:

  • If the front teeth are the most sensitive, use a straw when drinking sugary or cold beverages to prevent them from making contact with the affected teeth
  • Reduce your consumption of acidic foods including citrus, pickles, tomatoes, and more
  • Switch to a soft-bristled toothbrush instead of a firm-bristled
  • Use a toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth, after a few days sensitivity will be greatly reduced
  • Switch to an alcohol-free mouthwash
  • Use a nightguard when you sleep to avoid bruxism

Tooth Sensitivity FAQs

Your dentist will be glad to resolve any questions or concerns you have about tooth sensitivity and other oral health issues. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions:

Does heat sensitivity always mean root canal?

Sensitivity to heat is one of the tell-tale signs you need root canal treatment. However, it does not mean that root canal treatment is the only option for resolving the sensitivity issues. There are other treatment options depending on the severity of the issue causing your sensitivity.

How do you tell if you have a cavity or just sensitive teeth?

While often related, a cavity is not the same as sensitive teeth. A cavity is a small hole in the tooth enamel caused by decay. Tooth sensitivity is tooth pain due to the dentin being exposed to certain stimuli such as heat or cold, excessively sweet or sour foods or beverages, and acidic foods or beverages.

The best way to confirm whether you have a cavity or sensitive teeth is with a dental checkup. If there are no holes in your enamel, you have sensitive teeth. If you have one or more holes in your enamel, you have a cavity.

Does tooth sensitivity to cold mean a cavity?

No, sensitivity to cold does not necessarily mean that you have a cavity. There are other reasons that your teeth may be sensitive to cold including: gum disease, brushing too hard, clenching/grinding, receding gums, and cracks/chips in teeth.

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