7 Reasons Your Teeth Hurt in Cold Weather

couple walking in the winter time

Do your teeth hurt in cold weather? If so, you’re not alone. A drop in temperature and freezing temps can make your teeth sensitive. Especially if you walk outside in cold weather and take a big deep breath in through your mouth. Chances are—even if you don’t normally suffer from tooth sensitivity—you’ll feel the zing.

Fortunately, cold weather tooth sensitivity can be managed through preventative methods. But if your sensitivity is so severe that you can’t eat or drink something even slightly cool, a bigger problem may be to blame.[1] Understanding how cold temperatures affect your teeth and identifying the various symptoms of sensitivity can help you recognize the difference between a little inconvenience and a major oral health concern.

Can Cold Weather Make My Teeth Hurt?

Is it possible for someone with healthy teeth to experience cold weather sensitivity? Yes. You can have completely intact, cavity-free tooth enamel and still experience moderate to severe discomfort caused by cold temps.[2]

In most cases, cold weather won’t make your teeth hurt unless you’re breathing in through your mouth (where your teeth are exposed) or you’re outside for an extended period of time and your mouth is uncovered. Tooth sensitivity to cold is one of the most common dental problems that people experience. If you know you’re going to be spending a lot of time out in the snow, for instance, and you don’t have a scarf or something covering part of your face, your teeth might get a bit sensitive the longer you’re outdoors. Your lips and cheeks only provide so much insulation!

7 Reasons Why Cold Weather Is Causing Tooth Sensitivity

Why is it that teeth are sensitive in the first place? It ultimately comes down to nerve stimulation. Your tooth is covered in thousands of tiny little pores, each of which houses their own microscopic nerve ending. And inside of your tooth is one central, larger nerve that extends from the crown (visible part of your tooth above the gums) down the length of your root, connecting it to major nerves that run through your bone.[3]

1) Sudden Changes In Temperature

Even if you don’t typically experience sensitive teeth, major changes in the temperature can make your teeth hurt. If you’re in a 70-something degree house and step outside into 30 or 40-degree weather, you might notice that your teeth definitely feel a little more tender than they did a few minutes prior. Especially if you open your mouth to talk to somebody or take in a big, deep breath on a cold-weather morning run.

2) Gum Recession

Gum disease and aggressive tooth brushing can cause your gums to recede. When tooth roots are exposed, they tend to be fairly hypersensitive to outside stimuli. After all, they’re typically covered with a protective layer of gum tissues. Since root surfaces do not have an outer layer of enamel, the underlying dentin (which is less dense) tends to overreact to temperature changes. Even if you don’t experience cold weather tooth sensitivity, drinking a tall glass of ice water will likely send a jolt of pain straight through your tooth and bone.

3) Thin Enamel Or Sensitive Nerves

Some of us just have more sensitive teeth than other people. It could be that you have an overactive, enlarged, or damaged dental nerve that’s more prone to sensitivity than others. Or, if you have generally thin enamel because of acid erosion or acid reflux disease, you might experience similar sensations during temperature changes.

4) Tooth Trauma

A dying or damaged tooth can experience major sensitivity pain when exposed to cold or hot foods. Heat sensitivity tends to be more related to an abscess, but cold sensitivity may also be an indication that the tooth nerve is permanently damaged. If you remember being hit in that part of your mouth—like in an athletic activity or automobile accident—the pain could be a delayed reaction from a previous injury. It’s fairly common to see tooth nerves begin to “die” as long as 7-10 years or more after a traumatic injury.

5) Cavities

Most cavity symptoms include signs of sweet sensitivity, pain when biting down, or sharp and throbbing sensations coming from a specific tooth.[4] If you notice these cold sensations coming from a certain area of your mouth, it could mean there’s something wrong with your tooth. Instead of a generalized sensation on that side of your mouth, you’re probably more likely to feel a “zing” or sharp jolt at a certain point on a repeated basis.

6) Large, Leaky Dental Restorations

It’s normal for old dental fillings to gradually give out. If you have a silver/amalgam restoration, the edges can eventually start to leak and create a tiny gap between the margin of the filling and your tooth. This development can make the tooth more sensitive and prone to fracturing. If you schedule regular checkups, your dentist can help rule out any minor issues before they become major problems.

7) Teeth Grinding

Bruxism (chronic clenching and grinding) can create tiny chips or wear facets on the chewing surfaces of your teeth and right alongside the gumlines, exposing the softer dentin underneath. If you clench and grind on a constant basis, those damaged surfaces will naturally be more sensitive to drops in temperatures. It’s not a matter of “just getting used to it” because physically, enamel is supposed to be covering them (and it can’t grow back.)

How To Relieve Toothache Pain

Fortunately, most symptoms of cold sensitivity are short-lived. But if you’re outside on a frequent basis and avoiding cold temps isn’t an option, there are a few things you can try:

1) Bundle Up

If your face is exposed, your teeth may get cold. Have a shrug, scarf, or something to go around your chin and mouth to keep your face and mouth warm.

2) Use Sensitivity Toothpaste

Desensitizing toothpaste can work wonders on sensitive teeth. But the key is to start using it ahead of time. You really need about two weeks of using sensitivity toothpaste every day before it works to its full potential. Then you have to keep using it!

3) Try Not To Breathe Through Your Mouth

Taking in big gasps of air when the weather is cold is a sure way to make your teeth hurt. If your nose is stuffy, plan ahead. You might want to have some saline spray, decongestants, or allergy medication handy to keep your nasal passages clear.

4) Take Frequent Breaks

If you have a chance to go inside every so often to warm up, do it. Maybe that’s not an option; instead, you can cup your hands over your mouth and breath in and out of your nose a few times to warm it up, which will consequently help warm your mouth.

Prevent Any Dental Problems 

If you have gum disease or cavities, you’re going to have more sensitive teeth, period. Both of these conditions can be prevented with good home care. Start by making a point to brush at least twice a day for two minutes at a time, always using gentle pressure and soft or extra-soft toothbrushes. Aggressive brushing can make gum recession even worse.

Also, be sure to floss at least once a day. If you’re not flossing just under the edges of your gumlines, they can detach from your teeth, exposing the roots.

Brushing and flossing also remove plaque and food residue that is responsible for cavities. A great oral hygiene routine—complemented with fluoride every day—can significantly lower your risk of cavities and periodontal infections.

Make sure you’re also seeing your dental hygienist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and a fluoride treatment. Since tartar buildup can’t be removed (at least safely) without special dental tools, you need a thorough dental cleaning every six months, minimum, to keep your smile completely clean.

When To See Your Dentist

If your tooth sensitivity is so severe that you can’t eat anything that has the slightest hint of coolness, or the pain is coming from one specific area of your mouth, you need to see a dentist. A brief dental exam—and possibly a small X-ray or two—can help you figure out what’s going on. The treatment may be something simple, like changing your toothpaste, or more complex, like needing a root canal.

Bottom line, you don’t want to avoid the symptoms. If you feel major cold weather tooth sensitivity, make sure you’re at least caught up on your dental checkups to rule out anything too serious.