Baby It’s Cold Outside! As winter approaches and temperatures decrease, I hear from patients more often that the cold air outside makes their teeth hurt. Cold sensitivity, or dentin hypersensitivity, is very common in patients. In fact, 67% of people experience pain when eating cold food or drinking cold drinks, and 51% of people experience pain when breathing in cold air*. Instead of enduring the occasional wince, it is better that you understand why your teeth are sensitive and what you can do to relieve the sensitivity!
What exactly causes cold sensitivity? There are several possible causes of tooth sensitivity including the following:
- Tooth decay (cavities)
- Fractured/broken teeth
- Worn fillings
- Gum disease
- Worn tooth enamel
- Exposed roots
Healthy teeth have a layer of enamel that protects tooth structure above your gum line. It is the hard outermost surface of a tooth. Under the gum line, a layer called cementum protects your tooth root. Below the enamel and cementum layers is a tooth layer called dentin. Dentin is porous and contains microscopic canals with nerve endings in them. When dentin loses its protective covering, the nerve endings are exposed to the external environment, allowing cold to reach the nerves inside the tooth. This results in a short, sharp nerve pain in the tooth. All of the causes of sensitivity listed above damage the protective layer of enamel or cementum in different ways, exposing the underlying dentin layer and making you occasionally wince!
Your dentist can examine your teeth and recommend possible treatments. A variety of treatments could be suggested based on the underlying cause, including the following:
- Desensitizing toothpaste.Toothpastes like Sensodyne have potassium nitrate in them which help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. It usually requires two weeks (14 days) of daily use before the sensitivity is reduced.
- Fluoride trays. Your dentist can make you take home trays that you can use to bathe your teeth in prescription fluoride gel. The fluoride will strengthen your tooth enamel and reduce sensitivity.
- A filling, inlay, or crown. These can be used to restore cavities, worn fillings, or fractured/broken teeth, correcting the flaw that has been causing your sensitivity.
- Surgical gum graft. If you have gum recession and exposed root surfaces, your dentist may recommend a gum graft to protect your root and reduce sensitivity.
- Root canal. If cold sensitivity is prolonged and/or constant, you may require a root canal to eliminate the problem.
Be proactive and protect your enamel so that your sensitivity does not worsen! Here are some ways to be proactive in protecting your teeth:
- Don’t brush too hard. Use a soft toothbrush and brush in tiny circles (not sideways which can expose root surfaces). Brushing vigorously can eventually wear down tooth enamel.
- Avoid grinding or clenching your teeth. Grinding wears away your protective enamel. Ask your dentist about a mouth guard for nighttime or daytime use!
- Practice good oral hygiene. Brush and floss twice a day properly to prevent periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontal disease can cause recession in your gums and expose your root surface.
- Schedule your professional teeth cleaning. Your dentist will provide recommendations and advice on reducing your dentin hypersensitivity.
To schedule an appointment, call our office at (425) 354-3138 or visit our website http://mccauleydentistry.com.
Amanda McCauley, DDS