That first icy gust of January air can be a refreshing sign of winter for some Mainers, especially after December’s warm streak. For people with sensitive teeth, though, the wintry air is nothing to smile about, and sipping hot tea or cocoa to warm back up can be just as painful on the other end of the spectrum. The pain is typically a sharp and sudden shock to the nerve endings, and can linger as an irritating toothache. So, the big question is: what is the root cause of tooth sensitivity?
Receding gums—caused by tooth decay, gum disease, and more—can reveal the surface beneath the enamel of your teeth, called the dentin. The dentin contains tiny, fluid-filled tubes (dentinal tubules) that lead right to the pulp and central nerves of your teeth. When the dentin is exposed, hot or cold temperature changes can carry right through to the nerves, leading to an agonizing jolt of pain.
Certain acidic foods can also wear away enamel, leaving your dentin exposed, as can grinding your teeth and hard-bristled brushes or overly hard brushing. Some toothpaste is designed specifically for sensitive teeth, but developing good habits like brushing gently, flossing, and not grinding your teeth can aid in maintaining your enamel. If your teeth are hypersensitive to the hot or cold, make sure to mention it at your next appointment.