The Real Reason Your Teeth Are Sensitive To Cold Food

As the weather warms up, one of the best ways to cool off is by grabbing an ice-cold drink or a fruity popsicle. But for many people, that first taste is quickly followed by sharp tooth pain. Tooth sensitivity is fairly common, being experienced by approximately one in eight adults (via Journal of the American Dental Association). And while it can have a number of different causes, it all centers around the exposure of the tooth's nerves.

Ana Paula Dias Ribeiro, DDS, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of restorative dental sciences at the University of Florida College of Dentistry in Gainesville, says, "There are several dental conditions that cause tooth sensitivity, most of which involve the loss of protective covering over the dentin" (via Everyday Health). The dentin is the second layer of the tooth, and is connected to the tooth's nerve endings through microscopic channels. While it is covered with protective enamel, when gums recede or tooth enamel gets worn away, the dentin becomes exposed, and with it, comes direct access to the nerves.

Dr. Margaret Culotta-Norton, a dentist in Washington, D.C., and former president of the D.C. Dental Society, says, "Cavities, cracked teeth, gum recession, enamel and root erosion all cause dentin to be exposed. Dentin is connected to the nerve that triggers pain in sensitive teeth" (via Live Science).

Brushing too hard can wear down tooth enamel

Tooth enamel can be worn down in a number of ways. Brushing heavily with a hard-bristled toothbrush, using tooth-whitening products, eating or drinking acidic foods, and grinding your teeth (often at night) can all work against tooth enamel (via Healthline).

While tooth sensitivity never really disappears, it can be helped. The right treatment will depend on what is causing the sensitivity in the first place. The solution may be as simple as brushing more gently (with a soft brush), applying fluoride treatments, minimizing the consumption of citrus fruits and drinks, or wearing a mouthguard at night to prevent tooth grinding.

Discuss the issue with your dentist, as he or she can also offer other helpful options. Dr. Culotta-Norton adds, "Sensitive teeth never completely disappear. Symptoms may be less or even seem to go away for a while but unless the reasons why a person's teeth become sensitive are completely eliminated the sensitivity will come and go" (via Live Science).