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Sensitive Teeth: Understanding the Causes and Finding Relief

Learn about the causes and treatment options for sensitive teeth, including tips for prevention and relief. Discover how to keep your smile healthy and pain-free.

Last updated on

July 19, 2023

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Sensitive Teeth: Understanding the Causes and Finding Relief

Having teeth that are sensitive to cold can make it difficult to enjoy some of life’s greatest pleasures, such as our favorite frozen dessert—ice cream. 

If you have sensitive teeth, you’re not alone: one in four adults suffer from sensitive teeth in the United States. Fortunately, sensitive teeth can be treated. 

Read on to find out what causes sensitive teeth in the first place and what you can do to bring some relief. 

Why Are My Teeth So Sensitive to the Cold?

To understand why your teeth are so sensitive, let’s go into the anatomy of the teeth and the gums. Adults have 32 teeth of varying types, each made up of the following parts:

  • Enamel: This is the outermost part of the tooth. Enamel is made out of calcium phosphate, a hard mineral that allows enamel to protect your tooth from external elements. 

  • Dentin: This is the layer directly underneath the enamel. Although it’s slightly softer than enamel, it’s still a hard substance made up of various minerals. It contains microscopic tubes that transfer signals from the outside to the inside of the tooth.

  • Pulp: This is the innermost part of the tooth and also the softest. It contains blood vessels, nerves, and other connective tissue, which brings essential nutrients to the tooth. 

  • Cementum: True to its name, this is a layer of connective tissue that cements the root of the teeth to the gums.  

  • Periodontal Ligament: This is the soft tissue between teeth and bone. It’s made up of various types of collagen (an elastic protein). Its purpose is to make it possible for the tooth to attach to the gums while providing overall support to the tooth.

So what happens when your teeth are sensitive to cold? 

Well, most often, the problem lies with the enamel. When this outermost layer of the tooth wears away (which happens due to various reasons listed below), then it can potentially lead to the dentin being exposed. 

Dentin has those microtubes that transmit signals to the nerve-rich pulp. These microtubes allow heat, cold, or acidic substances to reach the nerves inside the pulp, which can cause you to grimace in pain when—for instance—drinking an iced coffee. 

What Causes Teeth Sensitivity?

Although the health of your teeth is—in part—genetic, it’s mostly the lifestyle factors that contribute to the wearing away of enamel and thus, to sensitive teeth. Here are some of them.

  • Brushing Too Hard: Aggressively brushing your teeth or using a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down the enamel of your teeth. 

  • Gum Recession: Although this isn’t a concern unless you are suffering from gum disease, it can still contribute to sensitive teeth by exposing the dentin. 

  • Teeth Grinding: Grinding your teeth can wear away the enamel and expose the dentin. As common as it is, this habit goes unnoticed by many people who engage in it. 

  • Acidic Foods: Citrus fruits, pickled vegetables, tomato products, coffee, and wine all contain significant levels of acids that can wear away at your tooth enamel. 

  • Acidic Mouthwash: Similar to the acids in food, a mouthwash that’s too acidic can damage your tooth enamel. Make sure to do your research and pick a mouthwash with a pH of 5.5 or higher. 

  • Whitening Products: As much as we covet that Hollywood smile, it’s important to be cautious when choosing a whitening procedure. While most professional and at-home bleaching products are safe, there are some that can be potentially harmful. So make sure to stick to only credible products and never overdo it. 

Keep in mind that you may experience temporary tooth sensitivity in some other cases. 

For instance, if you have a cavity filled, then expect your tooth to feel sensitive for at least two weeks. 

Similarly, if you’re having your teeth professionally whitened, then the hydrogen peroxide (one of the most common bleaching agents) will likely reach the inner layers of your teeth and cause slight irritation. As such, you can experience sensitivity for a few days. 

Does Cold Sensitivity in Teeth Ever Go Away?

You may be wondering if you will always have to deal with sensitive teeth. While there are many remedies for this condition, sensitive teeth will not go away completely—unless the root cause of tooth sensitivity is addressed. If it’s not addressed, then your symptoms will show up whenever you expose your teeth to cold foods, beverages, or even air. 

Thankfully, there are many treatments available for sensitive teeth, which your dentist can discuss with you after they’ve made an evaluation of the possible root causes. However, in the meanwhile, there is plenty you can do to relieve the symptoms of your sensitive teeth. 

9 Remedies for Teeth That Are Sensitive to the Cold

There are plenty of remedies for relieving the symptoms of sensitive teeth. Here are some of our top recommendations:

1. Get to the Root of the Problem

First and foremost, it’s important to keep in mind that the only thing that will heal your sensitive teeth is getting to the root cause of the problem. So while there are plenty of home remedies you can try, it should be done knowing that you will be seeing a dentist about your tooth sensitivity.

Your dentist will evaluate the root cause of your problem and offer you a variety of treatments. This can include fixing any possible tooth decay, undergoing procedures such as crowns, and using professional products such as fluoride gel. For this reason, it’s important to find a dentist as soon as possible.

2. Use a Soft Toothbrush

Aggressive brushing is one of the leading causes of worn tooth enamel. If you have a tendency to brush harshly, then try a more gentle approach (trust us, it’s still possible to be incredibly thorough when brushing gently!).

Next, we would invest in a soft toothbrush. These will have soft and fluffy bristles that won’t be as harsh for your teeth and gums. Plus, they’ll feel a lot more pleasant to use. 

3. Use a Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth

Along with a soft toothbrush, it’s important to use the right toothpaste for your teeth. Toothpaste made for sensitive teeth contains ingredients that address how permeable your dentin layer is. Some of these ingredients include metal ions, potassium, and oxalates. These agents position themselves in the microtubes of dentin and block the pain signals you may get from the cold. 

4. Rinse With Salt Water

Pain is one of the main symptoms of inflammation. To alleviate the pain associated with sensitive teeth, a saltwater rinse is one of the most effective and economical options. In addition, it helps to balance the pH of your mouth and to make it less acidic. 

To make a saltwater rinse, all you need is salt and water. Using a cup of warm water, mix in one teaspoon of salt and mix everything together. Rinse for at least five minutes. 

5. Rinse With Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is another great way to balance the pH of your mouth and to kill any harmful bacteria. As a plus, it’s very gentle. 

To make a hydrogen peroxide rinse, mix equal parts of warm water and hydrogen peroxide. Swish it in your mouth for several minutes. To get rid of any unpleasant taste, you can rinse again with plain water. 

6. ”Pull” With Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is another natural ingredient with antiseptic properties that can kill harmful bacteria in your mouth. While there are pre-packaged coconut oil rinses that you can buy, they can just as easily be made with the coconut oil you have at home. Just take a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil and swish it around your mouth for several minutes. 

7. Turmeric Paste​​

Turmeric has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine due to its anti-inflammatory effects. To alleviate the pain in sensitive teeth, you can either brush your teeth with turmeric powder or apply a turmeric paste to your teeth for several minutes. Mix it with ingredients such as coconut and ginger to make it taste delicious. 

9. Fluoridated Mouthwash

Fluoride is an incredibly popular product amongst dentists. 

When you use a product that contains fluoride—like mouthwash—it ends up in your saliva, which coats your teeth. This will lead the enamel to absorb the fluoride that’s in your saliva, bond with its minerals, and create a strong, protective coating. This process is also referred to as remineralization. 

You may already be getting small doses of fluoride from your drinking water, but it’s definitely helpful to get a larger dose of it in oral care products. 

Best Remedies for Sensitive Teeth

There are many things you can do to get relief for teeth that are sensitive to cold. Whether it’s rinsing with salt water, applying a turmeric-based paste, or using fluoridated products, many options can bring you relief. 

Nonetheless, it’s important to get to the root cause of the issue. Flossy can help you find the right dentist to diagnose and treat the real reason your teeth are sensitive to the cold.

Our Sources: 

Teeth Names: Diagram, Types, and Functions | Medical News Today 

Good or Bad Teeth? The Genetics of Tooth Decay | CNN 

Tooth-Bleaching Procedures and Their Controversial Effects: A Literature Review | NCBI

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