Summertime means ice cream trucks, popsicles and outrageous sundaes down at the Ex. But for some people who suffer from sensitive teeth, these tempting treats come with a catch: tooth pain. For these unfortunate folks, frozen delicacies are a double-edged sword. The cold can create shooting pains in teeth that otherwise don’t ache. It’s enough to put even the most dedicated ice cream lover off their cone.
It’s not just the cold that does it, either. For some people, heat or even certain textures can trigger a painful reaction. But why does this happen? And what can we do about it? We’ve laid out some of the causes behind the discomfort, as well as the steps you can take to get back to eating and drinking what you love.
The Root of the Problem
At the centre of each tooth is what is known as the “pulp.” This soft tissue is filled with very sensitive nerves, and extends down through a canal into the root. It acts as a sort of early warning system for tooth decay, becoming increasingly responsive to temperature and pressure as the tooth or gum decays around it. Yep, that’s right: increased sensitivity is can be a sign of decay. When the roots begin to become exposed, the sensitivity of the pulp increases.
Within the pulp are little liquid-filled pathways known as dentinal tubules. The liquid moves when exposed to extreme changes in temperature, which triggers pain in the nerves of the pulp. This can also cause tiny cracks to form within the tooth, providing another avenue for exposure to the nerves.
There are a few other reasons for sensitive teeth: cavities, broken teeth and worn enamel all increase pulp exposure. The first two issues are pretty easy to spot and come with a host of other painful problems. But enamel wear can sneak up on you, and is often caused by overzealous brushing or teeth grinding.
What You Can Do About Sensitive Teeth?
Cold or heat sensitivity can indicate some bigger issues down the road for your teeth. If you find that you’re experiencing pain where you never did before, the first thing you should do is contact your dentist . They may apply a fluoride gel that strengthens the enamel and reduces the transmission of heat or cold into the pulp. You may require a crown or bonding to combat decay. And in extreme cases, a root canal could be necessary.
But there are a few things you can do at home as well. Switch to a brush with softer bristles, and try to brush a little more gently. Find de-sensitizing toothpastes that can reduce the discomfort immediately, but may not tackle the cause. Of course, when it comes to ice cream, here’s a little insider tip: lick, don’t bite. For those of us used to chomping our ice cream, this may seem extreme, but sometimes a little change in technique is all it takes!