Causes of Tooth Sensitivity to Heat and Cold — and How to Treat It

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Causes of Tooth Sensitivity to Heat and Cold — and How to Treat It

dental pain

Have you ever experienced tooth pain when sipping a hot cup of tea or slurping a cold smoothie? Chances are, sensitive teeth are to blame.

While some home remedies can reduce discomfort caused by sensitive teeth, uncovering the underlying cause can help you treat and, hopefully, prevent this problem from coming back.

Why is my tooth sensitive to heat and cold?

Tooth sensitivity may occur as minor dental discomfort or as a painful sign of a more serious issue.

It usually feels like a sharp or shooting pain through your teeth into your gums that can radiate across your head. That’s why, when eating cold foods, some people say they’re experiencing a “brain freeze.”

Tooth sensitivity triggered by heat or cold tends to occur when a tooth’s outer protective layer, the enamel, has worn down.

Enamel covers the parts of a tooth above the gums. A loss of enamel can expose the sensitive dentin of the tooth, the layer below the enamel that allows heat and cold to stimulate nerves.

As well, the layer covering the root, cementum, can be exposed and cause sensitivity due to receding gums.

Common causes of enamel loss that create discomfort with heat or cold include:

  • Cavities
  • Tooth decay
  • Tooth injury, like a bruised tooth or chipped tooth
  • Teeth grinding
  • Gum disease
  • Receding gums
  • Garsh dental-care products, like whitening toothpastes and alcohol-based mouthwashes
  • Some kinds of dental work, like crowns and fillings
  • Acidic foods
  • Tooth infection
  • Forceful brushing
  • Smoking and use of tobacco products
  • Limited access to oral care
  • Poor oral hygiene

For heat-and-cold-related tooth discomfort caused by a chronic underlying problem, pain will likely recur when eating and drinking — unless the underlying cause is corrected.

In other cases, like with an acute tooth injury, pain may strike suddenly when exposed to heat or cold.

What can cause a permanent crown to be sensitive to heat and cold?

Crowns, inlays and bonding are used to repair cracked and worn teeth, preventing further damage. Such injuries can lead to tooth sensitivity with heat or cold exposure.

However, tooth sensitivity may return if the dental treatments are:

  • Done improperly
  • Poorly fitting
  • Shifting in the mouth due to loosening or breakage

Why is my tooth sensitive to heat and cold after a filling?

Similarly, fillings are a type of dental treatment that’s linked to tooth sensitivity.

Tooth sensitivity can occur after dental treatment if:

  • The filling or crown is too deep
  • The cavity isn’t fully removed and filled
  • The filling becomes loose due to tooth grinding, wear, or recessed gums

If sensitivity doesn’t go away or gets worse, a root canal is needed.

Why is my chipped tooth sensitive to heat and cold?

While teeth are strong, it’s common for them to wear and break over a lifetime.

Most tooth chipping is minor and causes no discomfort, but more significant breakage can lead to pain. When a tooth chips, enamel can crack off to reveal the dentin beneath — leaving teeth sensitive to heat and cold.

Remedies and medical treatments for tooth sensitivity

Home treatments can help ease some discomfort caused by tooth sensitivity.

However, to permanently address tooth sensitivity, you’ll need to see a dentist. A dentist can help determine a treatment plan to address the underlying dental issue causing sensitivity.

Home remedies

Several home remedies are known to ease sensitive teeth. These include:

  • Saltwater rinse
  • Hydrogen peroxide rinse (diluted in warm water)
  • Honey and warm water rinse
  • Turmeric rub
  • Green tea rinse
  • Capsaicin gel or mouthwash
  • Vanilla extract

OTC products

A 2013 study suggested desensitizing over-the-counter (OTC) mouthwash, and arginine-containing dental devices can help ease tooth sensitivity.

OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can also relieve pain.

Prescription medications

For serious cases of tooth sensitivity, a dental professional might recommend a prescription-strength NSAID. A growing number of dental professionals advise against prescribing opiates because of their addictive properties.

Diet and other changes

Changing your daily habits, like your diet and lifestyle, can sometimes help ease tooth sensitivity. These changes are most effective when adopted in conjunction with other treatments.

Change your toothpaste

Desensitizing kinds of toothpaste are formulated to reduce the discomfort of sensitive teeth. A dentist can recommend various brands to try.

Use a new toothbrush

If your tooth sensitivity stems from poor dental hygiene, cavities, gum disease, or rough toothbrushing, it’s probably time to pick up a new toothbrush.

When choosing a toothbrush for sensitive teeth, it’s best to opt for soft bristles. Brush gently in a circular motion for about 2 minutes all over the surface of your teeth, on the inside and outside.

Avoid acidic foods and drinks

Acidic food and drinks tend to wear away tooth enamel and can trigger sensitivity, especially when combined with heat or cold.

If you experience tooth sensitivity, you may want to avoid the following foods and drinks until you get the underlying cause under control:

  • soft drinks
  • citrus fruits
  • pickles
  • cranberries
  • tomato and tomato-based foods, like ketchup and hot sauce
  • coffee
  • wine

When to see a dentist

If you experience frequent tooth sensitivity or extreme sensitivity that interferes with your ability to eat and drink normally, you should schedule an appointment with a dental professional.

A dentist can identify the root cause of your tooth sensitivity, and create a treatment plan that will alleviate your discomfort.


Tooth sensitivity is a common issue with numerous possible causes. Generally, it occurs when the enamel wears off the teeth for any number of reasons.

Tooth sensitivity may stem from a tooth injury, disease, and new dental work, among other reasons.

Addressing the underlying cause of your tooth sensitivity can help reduce your pain long-term, while a variety of at-home, OTC, and prescription treatments can provide short-term relief.


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