The cold truth about ice and teeth sensitivity

woman holding an ice cream with a pained expression

You’re at a summer bash when someone offers you your favorite cocktail. It looks delicious, so you take a huge sip. Instead of refreshing limey goodness, you’re met with blinding pain. What gives?

About one in eight Americans suffers from tooth sensitivity, which is one of the early signs of tooth decay. Prevent tooth sensitivity by understanding the root causes.

Enamel erosion

Enamel erosion is one of the primary signs of tooth decay, and all you need to do is look in a mirror for evidence. If your smile makes you feel self-conscious, there’s a good chance that you have some level of erosion. There are three signs of eroding enamel: yellowing, rough edges and cupping. Discoloration hints that something compromised the enamel layer and exposed the underlying dentin, while rough edges are caused when small pieces fall or chip off, giving your teeth a jagged look. Cupping is a term used by dentists to refer to pits or “cups” in your teeth caused by diets with high acidity.


It’s ironic that taking care of your teeth may lead to tooth decay symptoms. Over-brushing scrapes the enamel off your teeth, leaving the sensitive exterior exposed. To find out if over-brushing is an issue for you, grab your toothbrush and examine the bristles; you’ll see the problem when you look closely. If the bristles are ragged, rough or point in different directions, there’s a good chance that you’re pressing too hard when you brush, or that you brush too often.

Teeth grinding

A sore mouth, a headache and oddly shaped teeth indicate that you may have bruxism, or a problem with teeth grinding. Grinding creates microscopic cracks that expose the dentin in your teeth. The exposed dentin is hypersensitive to stimuli, and will cause pain when it comes in contact with hot or cold substances. The surest sign of bruxism is physical damage to your teeth or a complaint from your sleeping partner that your grinding keeps him or her up all night. You may also notice that you have jaw or facial stiffness when you get up in the morning.

Treatments for teeth sensitivity

Treatment for sensitivity varies from small things you can do on your own to short procedures at your dentist. For starters, cut back on acidic foods and drinks like soda, since acidity is the leading cause of enamel erosion. Next, make sure you follow your dentist’s instructions about selecting the right type of bristle for your toothbrush, and adjust your brushing habits. Finally, your dentist can walk you through your options to reverse damage. If damage is minimal, the dentist can use a composite paste to fill in any cracks and protect the dentin in your teeth. If there is only damage to the chewing side of the tooth, the dentist may opt to add a set of porcelain veneers to the affected teeth, but if large areas or both sides of the mouth show signs of tooth decay, your best option is either a crown or inlay on the affected area.

Tooth decay symptoms like sensitivity are your body’s way of warning you more serious trouble is on the horizon. Don’t neglect the early signs of tooth decay or you’ll have to pay for expensive treatments or surgery later.