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What Causes Tooth Sensitivity to Hot and Cold?

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity to Hot and Cold?

Are you experiencing a sharp, shooting pain in your teeth when you indulge in your favorite hot or cold beverages? If so, you may be suffering from tooth sensitivity to hot and cold. This dental condition can make enjoying simple pleasures like sipping on a hot cup of coffee or biting into an ice cream cone a painful experience. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the causes of tooth sensitivity to hot and cold and provide valuable insights into managing this condition effectively.

Tooth sensitivity is a common dental condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterized by a sharp and temporary pain in the teeth when exposed to hot or cold stimuli. This discomfort occurs due to the exposure of the underlying dentin, which is a porous tissue containing tiny nerve endings. While tooth sensitivity can be bothersome, understanding its causes can help you take the necessary steps to manage and alleviate the symptoms effectively.

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity to Hot and Cold?

Tooth sensitivity, often described as a sharp or sudden pain in response to stimuli like hot or cold temperatures, is a common dental concern. The primary reason for this sensitivity is the exposure of the dentin, a part of the tooth located under the enamel and cementum (which covers the tooth’s root). Here are the leading causes of tooth sensitivity to hot and cold:

Worn Tooth Enamel: 

Enamel, the hard outer layer of the tooth, can wear down over time due to various factors. Aggressive brushing, using a hard-bristled toothbrush, or consuming acidic foods and drinks can erode the enamel, revealing the dentin beneath.

Tooth Decay: 

Cavities and tooth decay near the gum line can expose the dentin, making the tooth more sensitive to temperature changes.

Gum Recession: 

When gums recede, they leave a portion of the tooth’s root surface exposed. Since roots don’t have the protective enamel layer, they’re more prone to sensitivity.

Fractured Teeth: 

Cracked or chipped teeth can expose the dentin or even the tooth’s pulp, leading to heightened sensitivity.

Tooth Grinding: 

Grinding or clenching your teeth, a condition known as bruxism, can wear down the enamel and expose the underlying dentin.

What are the Factors Exacerbating Sensitivity

Tooth sensitivity can be aggravated by a variety of factors, both external and internal. Recognizing these factors can be crucial in managing and preventing heightened sensitivity. Here are some of the major contributors:

1. Dietary Choices:

  1. Consuming acidic foods and beverages like citrus fruits, tomatoes, and carbonated drinks can erode tooth enamel over time, exposing the underlying dentin and leading to increased sensitivity.
  2. Regular and frequent consumption of extremely hot or cold substances can exacerbate tooth sensitivity.
  3. Sugary substances promote bacterial growth, which can produce acids that erode the enamel.

2. Oral Care Products:

  1. Many over-the-counter whitening products contain chemicals that can increase tooth sensitivity, especially with prolonged use.
  2. Some mouthwashes can make the teeth more sensitive, particularly if the dentin is exposed. They can further strip away the enamel if used excessively.

3. Improper Oral Hygiene Practices:

  1. Using a hard-bristled toothbrush or applying excessive force while brushing can wear down enamel and cause gum recession.
  2. Neglecting regular brushing and flossing can lead to plaque build-up, gum disease, and tooth decay, all of which can increase sensitivity.

4. Temperature Fluctuations:

Rapid changes, such as moving from a warm room to cold outdoor temperatures, can trigger dental pain in sensitive teeth.

Dental Procedures and Tooth Sensitivity

Certain dental procedures can cause temporary tooth sensitivity. For example, teeth whitening treatments often involve the use of bleaching agents that can temporarily increase tooth sensitivity. Similarly, dental cleanings, fillings, and crowns may cause sensitivity due to the manipulation of the tooth structure.

Bruxism and Tooth Sensitivity

Bruxism, or teeth grinding and clenching, can wear down the enamel and expose the dentin, leading to tooth sensitivity. The excessive force exerted on the teeth during bruxism can cause enamel erosion and gum recession, exacerbating sensitivity to hot and cold stimuli.

Cracked or Chipped Teeth

When a tooth is cracked or chipped, it can expose the underlying dentin and pulp, leading to sensitivity. Cracks or chips can occur due to trauma, biting on hard objects, or grinding the teeth. Seeking prompt dental treatment for cracked or chipped teeth is crucial to prevent further complications.

Teeth Whitening Products

While teeth whitening treatments can enhance the appearance of your smile, they can also cause temporary tooth sensitivity. Whitening agents, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, can penetrate the enamel and irritate the nerves in the dentin. This sensitivity typically subsides after the treatment is complete.

How to Prevent Tooth Sensitivity

Here’s how to keep your teeth less susceptible to sensitivity:

  1. Brush your teeth gently twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush. This helps in removing plaque and debris without eroding the enamel.
  2. Floss at least once a day to remove food particles and plaque between teeth.
  3. Desensitizing toothpastes contain compounds that help block the transmission of sensation from the tooth surface to the nerve. Regular use can provide relief from sensitivity.
  4. Reduce the consumption of highly acidic foods and drinks like citrus fruits, carbonated beverages, and wines, as they can erode tooth enamel.
  5. If you grind or clench your teeth at night (bruxism), consider wearing a mouthguard while sleeping. This protects your teeth from excessive wear.
  6. Fluoride strengthens tooth enamel, making it less prone to sensitivity. Opt for fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash, and consider professional fluoride treatments at your dentist’s office.
  7. If you frequently use tooth-whitening products, you might increase your risk of sensitivity. Limit their use and follow product guidelines.


Tooth sensitivity to hot and cold can significantly impact your quality of life, making simple activities like enjoying a warm beverage or eating ice cream uncomfortable. By understanding the various causes of tooth sensitivity and seeking appropriate dental care, you can manage this condition effectively. Remember to maintain good oral hygiene, address any underlying dental issues, and consult with a dentist for personalized guidance. With proper care, you can regain your comfort and enjoy your favorite foods and drinks without the worry of tooth sensitivity.


Can poor oral hygiene contribute to tooth sensitivity?

Yes, poor oral hygiene can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Inadequate brushing and flossing can lead to plaque buildup, which can cause gum disease and enamel erosion, ultimately resulting in tooth sensitivity.

Is tooth sensitivity reversible?

In many cases, tooth sensitivity is reversible. By addressing the underlying cause and adopting good oral hygiene practices, you can often reduce or eliminate tooth sensitivity over time.

Can using a hard-bristled toothbrush cause tooth sensitivity?

Yes, using a hard-bristled toothbrush can contribute to tooth sensitivity. The abrasivenature of a hard-bristled toothbrush can wear down the enamel and expose the dentin, leading to sensitivity. It is recommended to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and practice gentle brushing techniques.

Are there any home remedies for tooth sensitivity?

While home remedies may provide temporary relief, it's important to consult with a dentist to address the underlying cause of tooth sensitivity. However, some home remedies that may help alleviate symptoms include using desensitizing toothpaste, avoiding acidic foods and beverages, and practicing good oral hygiene.

How can a dentist help with tooth sensitivity?

A dentist can determine the underlying cause of tooth sensitivity and recommend appropriate treatment options. These may include applying dental sealants, performing dental restorations, prescribing desensitizing agents, or providing professional fluoride treatments.