If you live in a cold climate, you already know the winter weather clothing drill: Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one heavy layer. Wear mittens, which are better than gloves at retaining warm air next to your skin. Wear a hat. Wrap a scarf around to mouth to protect your lungs.
But what about your teeth? Like all parts of your body they are prone to damage when exposed to cold air (typically physical issues from cold weather don’t start manifesting until temps drop below freezing). Sadly, there are no little sweaters available to keep your teeth toasty, and even if there were it’s doubtful anyone would want to wear them.
So how can you protect your teeth from the cold? Generally, you don’t have to do anything special– just wrap that scarf around your mouth when you’re out and about. If you do experience pain in your teeth when you smile in a snowstorm or otherwise expose your teeth to cold temperatures, you probably have a dental problem. The leading causes of dental pain due to exposure to cold include:
Damaged Teeth: Check in with your dentist if you typically experience dental discomfort or pain when out in the cold weather. Temperature sensitivity typically indicates teeth that are cracked or are suffering from dental erosion. Cavities and dental erosion are the most common cause of tooth pain. Cavities are caused by bacterial activity on the teeth. These bacteria are fueled by the carbohydrates in sugary foods, and create acid which eats away at teeth. Erosion, in contrast, is caused by acids in drinks and foods. Both cavities and erosion can lead to decay, gum infection, tooth loss and other serious health issues. Your dentist can fix cracks in your teeth and get you on a treatment plan to address enamel loss.
Gum Recession: This can be a natural part of the aging process, or a symptom of the gum infection called Gingivitis. Pain when exposed to cold temperatures is among the first signs of gum recession. If not treated, gum recession can progress to a more serious form of gum disease called periodontitis. This is a bacterial infection that can attack not only the gums, but also the bone that supports the teeth; the loss of supporting bone can eventually lead to tooth loss.
The vast majority of the population of the U.S. will experience gingivitis (the mildest form of gum disease) during some point in their lives; while 30% to 40% of us will experience periodontitis (the severe form of gum disease). Regular dental care, a healthy diet that limits sugar and highly acidic foods and drinks, and good oral hygiene helps ward off gum infection.
Gum Infection: Sick gums are very sensitive to temperature changes. 90% of all dental diseases are caused by bacterial plaque that has worked its way under the gums, and infected the tissues surrounding your teeth. Your best defense is consistent removal of the bacterial plaque. If its left alone for about 48 hours, it begins to harden – this is called tartar – and is extremely difficult to remove by simple brushing and flossing. You need professional cleanings to remove tartar.
Even if you do brush regularly (and we hope that you do!), it’s easy to miss tartar that can be lurking between your teeth, in tiny chips and cracks, or just under the gum line. Treatment requires removal of the bacterial biofilm and its associated calculus (tartar) from the teeth and gums, and sometimes treatment with antibiotics. But infections caused by dental biofilms can stubbornly resist antibiotics. Prevention is always the best strategy.
Aggressive Brushing: It may seem like the best way to get your teeth as clean as possible is to brush them with great enthusiasm. But tooth enamel can be damaged by overly-forceful tooth brushing. So, while you might figure that a good, hard brushing is more likely to remove food debris and just-forming plaque than a gentle approach, the truth is that overly aggressive brushing can actually wear down enamel which can cause cavities, tooth decay and gum disease.
Use a soft brush, and perhaps talk to your dentist or dental hygienist about electronic toothbrushes or the newer brushes that use ultrasound to destroy bad bacteria and debris without the need to brush. Some electronic brushes also have a feature that warns you if you are brushing too hard. Learn how to brush your teeth properly, and be especially careful when brushing near your gums – hard, side-to-side brushing here can cause irritation that can lead to infection, receding gums, and pain when exposed to temperature changes, pressure or air.
Bruxism: 40-million Americans engage in bruxism – the formal term for teeth grinding and clenching – and about 70% of all teeth grinding happens when we’re sleeping. Grinding and clenching can, in the worst cases, weaken teeth, fracture fillings, crack crowns, and destroy dentures. It’s common for people to be totally unaware they are nocturnal gnashers. An aggravated partner, denied sleep due to the sound of grinding, is the most common indicator that there is a problem. Sore jaws, a clicking sound when you open your mouth, a dull constant headache that originates around the temples, tender teeth, and even indentations on your tongue are other typical signs. And yes, so is tooth sensitivity to cold temperatures.
For anything more than the occasional bout of teeth grinding, you should see your dentist. The most common preventative treatment for severe cases of teeth grinding is to wear what’s called “a night bite plate” or a “bite splint.” Your dentist will fit one for you, some fit over the bottom teeth, others go on the top. In general, they work by compensating for misaligned teeth or by keeping your jaw more relaxed.
No matter what’s making your teeth hurt, good oral hygiene and regular dental care is the solution. If you’ve been putting off seeing a dentist due to cost, you’ll be happy to know that their affordable alternative to paying out of pocket and pricey insurance: a dental savings plan from :DentalPlans.
You can find out more about dental savings plans at dentalplans.com