What Hot and Cold Sensitivity Mean for Your Oral Health

What Hot and Cold Sensitivity Mean for Your Oral Health

More than 12% of Americans have sensitive teeth, experiencing painful symptoms when they eat hot or cold foods. While you might be able to limit sensitivity by carefully choosing your foods and drinks, it’s important to know that sensitivity could mean a serious oral health problem, which means having it evaluated by a dentist is really important.

At Compassionate Endodontics New York/NYC, our team gets to the cause of sensitive teeth in our New York City patients, providing treatments that protect teeth while eliminating painful symptoms. Here’s what could be causing your sensitive teeth.

Why tooth sensitivity happens

Many of us think of our teeth as solid, composed of the same material all the way through. But your teeth are actually composed of layers: the enamel surface layer, the underlying dentin layer, and the central pulp portion where the nerves and blood vessels are found.

Tooth sensitivity happens because hot or cold temperatures irritate the nerves in your tooth. Irritation can only happen, though, when something allows the nerves to be exposed — directly or indirectly — to hot or cold temperatures. 

Worn enamel

Worn enamel is a common cause of general tooth sensitivity. As we age, years of chewing and grinding wear down the protective enamel coating. Consuming foods and drinks with high acid content wears down enamel, too, and so can poor oral hygiene. When your enamel is worn down, it’s easier for temperatures to penetrate through the tooth pulp and the nerves it contains, resulting in sharp pain or dull aching.


A cavity happens when bacteria eat through the tooth enamel and sometimes through the dentin, too. Cavities create “openings” where temperatures can easily penetrate to the pulp and the tooth nerves. 

Gum disease

Gum disease happens when bacteria invade your gums where they meet your teeth. As bacteria multiply, they release toxins that irritate the gum tissue. Your gums react by receding — moving farther down the tooth surface. Over time, recession exposes the lower part of your teeth, where enamel is much thinner. Once again, that thin enamel makes it a lot easier for temperatures to have an effect.

Tooth fracture or cracks

While it’s pretty obvious that a large tooth break can expose the nerve and cause sensitivity problems, tiny hairline cracks and fissures can cause problems, too. That’s because even a very tiny crack allows temperatures to penetrate to the central part of your tooth, leading to pain and discomfort.

Treating tooth sensitivity

Before recommending any type of treatment, our team performs a thorough exam to determine why your teeth are sensitive. In addition to a visual exam, we use other techniques, like:

These exams can also help us recommend the best treatment to reduce sensitivity and protect your teeth.

Depending on your own needs, we might recommend a filling for more superficial cavities, a root canal for deep decay or infection, a crown or other restoration for a cracked tooth, or special treatments to stop gum disease and restore healthy gum tissue. Practicing good at-home care and regular dental visits can help prevent sensitivity from recurring.

Help for your sensitive teeth

If your teeth are sensitive, you might think all you need to do is use a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth while avoiding very hot or very cold foods. But when you ignore sensitivity, you could also be ignoring a serious underlying issue that can wind up getting a lot worse.

To find out what’s causing your tooth sensitivity and how we can help, call 929-229-0255 or book an appointment online at Compassionate Endodontists New York/NYC today.

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