Professional Opinion

Professional Opinion: My teeth hurt when I drink cold beverages: What causes this?

Dr. Stephen Durham of Durham Dental in Beaufort
Dr. Stephen Durham of Durham Dental in Beaufort Submitted photo

This week, Dr. Stephen Durham of Durham Dental in Beaufort discusses teeth sensitivity and what causes it.

Question: My teeth are sensitive when I eat cold foods or drink cold beverages. What causes this and what can be done about it?


The sensitivity you are experiencing to cold foods and drinks is probably a result of root surface exposure.

Gums and enamel protect the roots of your teeth, but when the root becomes exposed through gum loss or loss of enamel, tooth sensitivity and tooth pain are the result.

Two main causes of root surface exposure are gum disease and teeth-clenching and grinding.

Grinding causes the nerves inside the teeth to become inflamed and over responsive or hypersensitive. When these hypersensitive teeth are exposed to hot, cold or sweet foods, even cold air at times, it can bring about tooth pain that can be enough to make you wince.

Likewise, gum disease (or periodontal disease), which causes inflammation in the gum tissue itself, leaves the sensitive dentin around the base of the tooth exposed and reactive to things like temperature, sweetness and acidity.

When tooth sensitivity is at its worst, people find themselves avoiding "trigger" foods and beverages or find themselves chewing on the opposite side to avoid particularly sensitive areas of their mouths.

What most people don't realize is that acidic foods and drinks (soda, citrus juices and coffee, for example) make tooth sensitivity worse, as do excessive or improper brushing.

It is smart to avoid whitening agents and whitening toothpastes, which have abrasives to remove staining from the surface of your teeth. For patients with minor sensitivity, the daily use of a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth, applied directly to the gum-line of the sensitive areas at nighttime, may dramatically reduce sensitivity and the resulting pain.

Likewise, a fluoridated mouthwash, used daily, can help.

Always be sure to use a soft bristled toothbrush, taking extra care to brush gently along the gum line so as not to further damage gum tissue.

If you are still experiencing pain, be sure to discuss tooth sensitivity with your dentist at your next appointment.

There are some highly effective treatments available such as fluoride varnish, sealants and bonding, which allow the exposed root surfaces to be covered, thereby regaining the protective layer that keeps tooth sensitivity at bay.

If clenching or grinding is the cause of your pain, then a well-fitted night guard or orthotic, which helps take pressure off your normal bite, may be advised.

Whatever the cause of your tooth pain, it is definitely not something to ignore or live with. A quick consult with your dental team will get you started on the correct regiment for you.

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