If your morning coffee or your afternoon iced tea has started to hurt your teeth, you may have tooth sensitivity. Hot and cold foods can make your teeth hurt when you have sensitive teeth, and it can make the foods that you loved difficult to enjoy. There are some remedies to tooth sensitivity, and a few things that you can do to make hot and cold foods enjoyable again.
Why Do Hot and Cold Foods Make My Teeth Hurt?
To understand why hot and cold foods make your teeth hurt, it’s important to first understand the structure of teeth. Teeth are living structures with nerve endings and sensitive tissues inside them, just like the rest of your body. However, your teeth are protected by a layer of enamel, which is a nonliving material.
Tooth enamel can be worn away as bacteria multiply, feeding on sugars and starches left over on teeth after you eat and drink. As the bacteria multiply, they produce acids that dissolve tooth enamel. Tooth enamel can’t heal itself like other parts of your body. However, it can be reinforced by compounds that bind to it, like fluoride. This is why brushing your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is essential for keeping your teeth strong and healthy.
Hot and cold foods make your teeth hurt because your tooth enamel has weakened and the underlying structures of your teeth are exposed. Dentin lies underneath tooth enamel, and this material is less dense and tough than tooth enamel. However, dentin is also a living structure capable of repairing itself, if the damage is not too widespread. Dentin also contains small tubules that connect to the nerves deep within teeth. So, when the dentin is exposed to hot and cold temperatures, it stimulates nerve activity, which creates a painful sensation. This is why hot and cold foods make your teeth hurt.
Other Reasons Hot and Cold Foods Make Your Teeth Hurt
As tooth enamel weakens and dentin gets exposed, tooth sensitivity can result. However, there are other reasons hot and cold foods might make your teeth hurt.
- Receding gums: When gums start to pull away from the teeth, usually due to bacterial damage, it exposes the dentin. When hot and cold foods touch these exposed parts of teeth, it will cause pain.
- Cavity: The same process that wears away tooth enamel also creates cavities. Bacteria tend to sink into valleys and hard-to-reach places on teeth. The acids they produce collect here and form small holes in teeth. As these holes get deeper, more of the tooth becomes exposed and the tooth will be sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
- Damaged tooth: Similar to a cavity, if a tooth is cracked, chipped or otherwise damaged, the dentin or even the dental pulp will become exposed. This can cause intense pain.
- Teeth grinding: Teeth grinding, also called bruxism, usually happens at night and we don’t notice it until we wake up. The force of teeth grinding puts too much pressure on teeth and will cause the gums to pull away. This exposes the tooth’s structures and creates sensitivity to heat and cold.
- Teeth bleaching: tooth enamel is mostly transparent, and doesn’t actually color your teeth. Dentin gives your teeth color, and teeth bleaching products have to wear away enamel to whiten teeth. This, in turn, can cause tooth sensitivity.
- Hard brushing: brushing your teeth too hard can also wear away tooth enamel. Similar to teeth grinding, we often don’t notice we’re doing this. When you brush your teeth, take a moment to notice the pressure you’re using.
How to Reduce Pain From Tooth Sensitivity
First, if you notice that your teeth are cracked, loose, or your gums are swollen, red and pulling away, see a dentist. Or, if you notice that you are waking up with a sore jaw and you think you’re grinding your teeth at night, a mouth guard might be helpful. This can help to protect the exposed tooth and resolve the pain from hot and cold foods.
However, if you’re experiencing tooth sensitivity from weakening enamel, it can be harder to find relief. Here are a few solution:
- Sensitive toothpaste or mouthwash: Toothpaste or mouthwash made for sensitive teeth contains special ingredients that fill the tubules in dentin, reducing the nerve activity from hot and cold temperatures.
- Soft-bristled toothbrush: If the enamel around your teeth is already weakened, a soft-bristled toothbrush can help to scrub away bacteria without damaging enamel.
- Bonding gel: If a larger part of a tooth’s surface becomes exposed, your dentist can apply a bonding gel over the area that will cover it. This can sometimes be used to repair small defects in teeth or reinforce weakened areas.
If hot and cold foods make your teeth hurt and you’re having trouble enjoying your favorite foods, your dentist can offer the best interventions. Your dentist can find the cause of your tooth sensitivity, and help you resolve the problem. Make an appointment today with a dentist near you.