Winter is in full swing in Northern Nevada. Unfortunately, this year promises to be a harsher winter than we’ve had in many years. When temperatures drop, those of us with cold sensitive teeth can start feeling the pinch—especially if we spend a lot of time outdoors.

Boy with cold sensitive teeth.

Why do my teeth hurt when they’re cold?

A variety of things can cause tooth sensitivity, from underlying tooth decay to grinding to genetics. However, if you find your teeth are only sensitive when it’s cold, chances are there are one of four culprits:

Contractions in the dentin

Our teeth register and respond to temperature changes like most structures do: by expanding and contracting. A rapid drop in temperature—for instance, going from a heated environment into sub-freezing temperatures—can cause the soft dentin in teeth to contract. These repeated expansions and contractions can cause small cracks in the teeth. Although it is normal and not typically cause for concern, this leaves teeth vulnerable to exposure and pain.

Ways to fight it: When spending time outdoors in the winter, especially if activities like running, skiing, and other sports keep you breathing vigorously, protect your mouth with a scarf, or try to breathe through your nose as much as possible. If your nose is congested more in winter, try using a decongestant spray before you go out for that run.

Sinus pressure or infection

Sometimes the pain we feel in our teeth isn’t coming from the teeth at all. The squeeze and pressure of our sinuses can cause a pain similar to cold tooth sensitivity. Colds and allergies can result in inflammation that pushes against the underlying structures of the teeth and jaw. This pressure can cause anything from a dull, constant ache to brief but sharp, shooting pain.

Ways to fight it: The best way to avoid sinus-related tooth pain is to guard against catching the cold and flu by washing hands frequently, exercising, and eating a well-balanced diet. But despite our best efforts, most of us still get the occasional cold, and many suffer from allergies. Saline sinus sprays can help relieve sinus pressure, as can anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen. Over-the-counter allergy medications can help reduce flare-ups.

If you find that you’re frequently or acutely plagued by sinus pain and pressure, consult with your doctor.

Enamel erosion

The protective enamel on your teeth can erode for a variety of reasons, including age, tooth decay, and brushing vigorously. When tooth enamel has become too thin, the sensitive parts of your teeth become exposed. Then, your teeth become vulnerable to temperature sensitivities and other stimuli, including, and most commonly: cold.

Ways to fight it: Caring for your teeth through diet and careful, gentle daily dental care is the best defense for preserving protective enamel erosion. But if you suspect you’re already experiencing enamel erosion, talk to your dentist. Your dentist may recommend a tooth-desensitizing toothpaste, a protective varnish, or discuss other available options for reducing enamel-related tooth sensitivity.

Ill-fitting fillings or dentures, or exposed roots

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is an inflammatory condition caused by bacteria in the mouth that, if left untreated, can result in tooth decay, gum recession, and bone loss. This process of degeneration can change the structure of the mouth, resulting in loose fillings, unstable bridges and dentures, even loose or lost teeth, all of which leave roots and sensitive dentin exposed.
Ways to fight it: Proper oral hygiene is the only true defense against periodontal disease and its resulting pain and sensitivities. Daily dental care and regular dental exams and cleanings go a long way to help prevent periodontitis and gingivitis, and while once it develops it’s not reversible, your dentist can help stabilize gum disease and prevent it from advancing.

Give your teeth a check-up this winter at a trusted Nevada Dentist. Contact Reno Dental Associates to schedule an appointment.