Readers ask, we answer: Teeth sensitivity in the winter

Lexi asks:

“My teeth hurt when it’s really cold out. Why does this happen?”

Hi, Lexi. Did you know that your front teeth can change as much as 120 degrees in temperature? Exposure to cold air (and hot foods) can put a lot of pressure on your teeth. Just like other materials, your teeth expand and contract as they change in temperature. As the inside and outside of your teeth adjust, little cracks can emerge. These cracks usually don’t affect tooth structure, but they can be uncomfortable. And if you have amalgam fillings, the discomfort may be worse. Metal expands and contracts more easily than natural teeth do.

But that’s not the only reason your teeth can hurt in cold weather. If the enamel, or the outside layer of your teeth, has started to wear away, your teeth can become very sensitive. Without the protection of your enamel, the nerves inside your tooth are more exposed to the elements.

What can you do? First, talk to your dentist. A look inside your mouth — and possibly a new set of x-rays — can help your dentist figure out what’s causing the problem. In some cases, switching to sensitive toothpaste may be all you need. Or, your dentist may paint a protective varnish onto your teeth. In other cases, the pain may be a sign of something more serious. Cavities can increase sensitivity, especially if the infection has reached the pulp, the heart of your tooth. Your dentist may perform a pulp vitality test to check the health of your teeth. This test involves placing a hot or cold instrument on each tooth — or asking you to bite down — to see how your teeth respond to temperature changes and pressure.

In the meantime, you can reduce the pain by breathing through your nose when you’re outside and brushing and flossing regularly to fight decay. Avoid whitening treatments and acidic foods, which can increase sensitivity.

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