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The "Ice Cream Toothache": How to Deal with Sensitivity to Cold Food and Drinks

Summer sunshine calls for longer days and warmer nights, making us gravitate towards colder food and drinks. However, for some of us, biting down on ice cream or having a sip of a cold beverage can trigger a jolt of pain. Teeth sensitivity towards cold foods and drinks is caused when the nerves within your tooth are “exposed due to receding gums or worn tooth enamel.” The worn-down enamel exposes the dentin, a layer in your tooth, that causes pain when your tooth comes into contact with cold foods and beverages.

A recent scientific study has discovered the reason why some of us feel pain when eating or drinking something cold. They found a specific gene, called TRPC5, that resides within cells. Those cells are found between the soft inner pulp and the hard outer layer of dentin and enamel, called the odontoblast. This gene triggers a nerve response to cold foods and drinks. “When someone with a dentin-exposed tooth bites down on a popsicle, for example, those TRPC5-packed cells pick up on the cold sensation and an ‘ow!’ signal speeds to the brain.” Dr. Katharina Zimmerman, the team lead for the study, believes that these triggers can be blocked by creating a TRPC5 blocker that can be applied directly to your teeth via strips, chewing gum, or toothpaste to help treat dentine hypersensitivity.

The research team has also identified a pharmacological target for minimizing tooth sensitivity to cold. “For centuries, oil of cloves has been used as a remedy for tooth pain. The active agent in oil of cloves is eugenol, which happens to block TRPC5.” Eugenol has already been used in toothpaste that is available in the market, but this study’s findings may help find more leads to treating cold hypersensitivity.

In the future, these TRPC5 blocking agents can help prevent pain or sensitivity in teeth. In the meantime, if you are feeling any discomfort or sensitivity, please visit our dental office so we can assess your teeth and gums, to help come up with a treatment plan to get you back to optimal health.

What Causes Worn-Down Enamel?

There are many reasons why your enamel can become weak and worn down, leading to tooth sensitivity. Some of the major causes are:

  1. Aggressive brushing: excessive pressure with a hard-bristled toothbrush can erode your enamel. To prevent this from happening, opt for a soft-bristled toothbrush to ease and regulate the pressure.
  2. Cavities: or tooth decay, are caused by bacteria and acids from food that can form small holes and eat away at the outer layer of our teeth (the enamel). During your regular dental visits, your dentist can assess the need for fillings, check pre-existing fillings, or take a closer look at the problem spots to see if you may need more fillings. Large cavities, if left unfilled, can get bigger and cause pain.
  3. Acidic Food and Beverages: food and beverages that are high in acid can erode your tooth enamel, which protects your tooth, and cause tooth sensitivity. This process is also known as tooth erosion. This process can change the appearance of your teeth and allow for bacteria that can cause cavities or infection to enter. Some acidic foods and drinks to limit consumption of include sugary drinks and snacks, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.

How to Manage Tooth Sensitivity to Cold

Here are some dental remedies to help you treat sensitive teeth and manage their cold sensitivity better, so you can enjoy a cold treat during the warm summer days!

  1. Drink Through a Straw: drinking through a straw lets cold liquids bypass your teeth, which can prevent triggers to tooth sensitivity.
  2. Eating Cold Foods Differently: try to eat cold foods differently to avoid having direct contact with your teeth. For instance, for ice creams and sorbet, lick them instead of biting down on them. The plus point being, you get to savour it longer!
  3. Practice Good Oral Care: reduce the risk of an “ice cream toothache” by making sure you are brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush and flossing every day. Maintaining a good oral care routine can help prevent conditions such as enamel-wear or receding gums that can lead to sensitive teeth.

Can I Still Eat Ice Cream?

The answer is: yes! You can still enjoy ice cream moderately since it has plenty of calcium which is essential for healthy teeth and bones. However, don’t forget, ice cream is packed with sugar and can weaken your enamel.

Try to look for low sugar ice cream, or other frozen treats such as sorbets that you can make at home, to control the amount of sugar intake. Try to brush your teeth around 30 minutes after you enjoy your dessert, or if you can’t, rinse your mouth with water.

Overall, regular dental care is essential for your oral and overall health, especially in the summer when we’re enjoying cold treats like ice cream! Contact our dental office today to book your regular dental visits to maintain your beautiful, radiant smiles!