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Why your teeth hurt in cold weather

As the temperatures drop, your teeth might feel the chill. Cold air and blasts of chilly wind can sting your face and zap your teeth. But what's behind this painful phenomenon, and what can you do to protect your mouth?

Contraction and expansion

Did you know that your front teeth can be exposed to temperature changes of as much as 120 degrees? That may sound like a lot, but think of the temperature difference between a bowl of ice cream and a mug of hot tea. Exposure to cold air — and hot or cold foods — can be rough on teeth. Just like other materials, your teeth expand and contract as the temperature changes. As the inside and outside of your teeth adjust, tiny cracks can form. These cracks don't usually affect your tooth's strength or structure, but they can cause sensitivity and discomfort. If you have amalgam fillings, the discomfort can be even worse. After all, metal expands and contracts more quickly than natural teeth do.

Exposed dentin

If the enamel (the outside layer of your teeth) has started to wear away, the dentin below can become very sensitive. Without the protection of your enamel, the nerves inside your tooth are more exposed to the elements. This can be an issue if you grind your teeth or as enamel naturally wears as you age.

How to stop the pain

What can you do to get relief from temperature-based sensitivity? First, talk to your dentist. A look inside your mouth and possibly some x-rays can help your dentist figure out what's causing the issue.

In some cases, switching to a toothpaste intended to relieve sensitivity may be all you need. Your dentist may also put a protective coating on your teeth.

In other cases, the pain may indicate something more serious is going on. Cavities can increase sensitivity, for example, especially if the infection has reached the pulp at the center of your teeth. Your dentist may perform a pulp viability test to check the health of your teeth. This test involves asking you to bite down and placing a hot or cold instrument on each tooth. Doing so allows the dentist to see how your teeth respond to changes in pressure and temperature.

In the meantime, you can manage sensitivity by breathing through your nose instead of your mouth when you're outside and brushing and flossing regularly to fight decay. You can also avoid whitening treatments and acidic foods, which can increase sensitivity.

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Last updated November 1, 2021

The oral health information on this website is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult a licensed dentist or other qualified health care professional for any questions concerning your oral health.