BRRR.. WHEN A BREATH OF WINTER AIR HURTS
When you venture outside in the winter, and take a big breath in of that crisp, frigid air, do you immediately feel that “zing”? The “zing” that feels similar to when the dentist runs the metal scraper along your gum line and reaches the exact spot that causes you to jump out of the exam chair? Teeth are one of the hardest substances in the human body, yet can still be susceptible to the effects of extreme hot or cold temperatures because they are acclimated to our normal body temperature. When your teeth are immersed in a very hot or cold substance while eating and drinking, you may experience a mild irritation, or a shocking jolt of pain. Everyone’s teeth vary in their sensitivity to changes in temperature.
Why Does Cold Weather Impact Your Teeth?
There are many possible causes of discomfort when your teeth encounter wintry air.
Receding Gum Contraction and Expansion: When frosty air is inhaled through an open mouth, the saliva dries and the gum may contract. This allows the cementum (which covers the dentin in the root of the tooth) to become exposed a bit and the tiny pores or tubules that cover the roots are revealed. When the chilled air comes in contact with these bared sensitive areas along the gum line, zap! When you close your mouth, the gums expand again after contact with saliva and the warmth of your mouth. The outcome of these expansions and contractions is that when the cementum is exposed there is a shorter route for cold stimulus to reach the nerve of the tooth, because the exposed cementum provides less thermal insulation than a normal gum. So when exposed to an icy breath you certainly can feel a thunderbolt of pain.
Exposure to Sensitive Areas: Underlying problems with your teeth may be exacerbated upon contact with frosty air, because it tends to dry the body temperature saliva and leaves the teeth unprotected. The “zing” may be short lived, but is extremely painful at the instant of contact with the cold air. Sensitivity triggers may include:
• Older fillings have worn down around the edges exposing gaps and nerve endings;
• A filling that agitates a nerve ending
• Crowns or bridges that are defective or have eroded over time;
• Hairline cracks in enamel;
• Chipped teeth;
• Exposed roots from gum recession due to over-brushing or periodontal disease;
• Untreated cavities;
• Infections in/or abscessed teeth or gums;
• Bite issues;
• Large metal fillings;
• Worn enamel from grinding which exposes soft pulp inside the tooth.
Clenching Your Jaw: Do you notice yourself tensing your body to stay warm, and in the process also clench your jaw? The result is pressure on your teeth and jaw similar to tooth grinding, which can erode and cause hairline cracks in the enamel, and discomfort ensues. Similar damage can occur when your teeth chatter for long periods of time.
Sinus Pressure: It is also possible that sinus pressure reaction to the cold air is the actual culprit, as it often causes pressure in the ears, headache and discomfort in the teeth. The sinus and upper rear teeth share the same nerves, so when the sinus is inflamed, the teeth feel the pain.
How to Avoid the “Zing”
Alabama Family Dentistry provides some recommendations to help you alleviate cold weather tooth pain. Identifying under what circumstances it hurts, if the pain is constant when exposed to cold, or intermittent, can help isolate the specific stimulus that creates discomfort. Then you can consider practical and immediate steps to alleviate pain.
Consciously Breathe Through Your Nose: The lips, cheek and tongue tend to insulate your teeth from the cold if your mouth is closed. The easiest way to protect your teeth from the cold is to keep your mouth closed and breath through your nose, thus keeping your teeth bathed in body temperature saliva. After talking or laughing, close your mouth to get saliva circulating around the teeth again.
Cover Your Mouth With a Scarf: If you have trouble remembering to breathe through your nose when you are outdoors, or you need to be speaking, or are exerting yourself physically, and bitter gusts of wind are shocking your teeth, wrap a scarf around your mouth. For outdoor snow sports wear a baklava that you can pull up or down over your mouth.
Practice Good Oral Hygiene: Visit Alabama Family Dentistry for regular preventative care checkups to ensure your fillings, crowns, bridgework and gums are in tip top condition, as well as examine chips and cracks in the enamel or tooth itself. Make sure you floss regularly to keep them healthy and minimize potential for receding. If there aren’t sensitive areas in your mouth, there is nothing to feel the “zing”.
Use Sensitive Teeth Formulated Toothpaste: Many over-the-counter toothpaste brands include sensitive options that are specially made to help reduce tooth sensitivity within a few weeks of regular usage. They are designed to block the transmission of stimulus through channels of the tooth decreasing tooth sensitivity. The new Crest product has had a great deal of positive reviews. Use a soft bristled toothbrush, and brush gently for 2 minutes.
Rinse with a Fluoride Mouthwash: Using a fluoride mouthwash daily helps create a seal over sensitive areas of your teeth. And get flouride treatments when you have your teeth cleaned.
Rule Out Sinus Conditions: If you have visited Alabama Family Dentistry and no dental problems were identified, your cold weather pain may be sinus related, as pain is exhibited as headache, toothache and often earache. A visit to the ENT may be in order.
What About Persistent Discomfort?
If the cold sensation or ache is persistent, typically defined as longer than three days, there is a good chance your teeth may be compromised in some other way. Consult with one of our dentists at Alabama Family Dentistry, serving patients at our 4 locations throughout the Birmingham, Gardendale, Warrior, Sumiton, and surrounding communities, about effective ways to help alleviate pain, as well as identify the source of the pain and recommend effective procedures to alleviate the sensitive areas. Remember, prevention is key, and sensitivity to cold may be avoided with proper oral hygiene and remedial action.