What Causes Teeth To Be Sensitive To Hot and Cold?

Your teeth might develop sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures for various reasons. Though the onset of sensitivity in teeth may be gradual depending on what may be causing it, the pain it may cause will typically appear all at once.

If you drink a hot beverage like tea or coffee or bite into something cold like ice cream, you may feel a sudden, sharp pain caused by a nerve in the affected tooth. It’s best to see your dentist immediately to uncover the underlying cause and for prompt treatment, as the nerve can be inflamed or swollen for a number of reasons.

If you’re wondering what causes teeth sensitivity, here are the most common reasons.

Tooth Decay

Sugars in the food and drink you might consume can stick to your teeth and, if not adequately cleaned, can lead to the formation of plaque, which can eventually cause tooth decay. Tooth decay can cause irritation or inflammation inside the tooth, which can be what causes teeth to be sensitive to hot and cold.


A form of tooth decay, cavities are caused by the same sort of things—sugars in the foods we eat feed bacteria on the surface of the tooth, which causes plaque, which can cause cavities if not removed promptly.

Teeth Grinding

Also called bruxism, teeth grinding is an often unconscious or involuntary action that can cause considerable stress to the teeth, especially those in the back of the mouth. This stress can lead to inflammation inside the tooth, which can lead to sensitivity in the teeth. Your dentist can help with teeth grinding by fitting custom mouthpieces meant to protect your teeth.

Worn Tooth Enamel

Over time, the hard enamel, or outer layer of the tooth, can be worn away by interactions with chemicals in food or drink or simply by normal wear and tear. Once the enamel becomes worn, it exposes the dentin of the tooth, which can cause sensitivity in teeth.

A Cracked Tooth

A sudden impact trauma or other injuries can lead to a crack or chip in a tooth, which exposes the inner layers of tooth material. Once exposed, these internal layers become vulnerable to irritation and inflammation, which causes teeth to be sensitive to hot or cold.

Worn or Loose Fillings

An old dental filling may become worn at the edges or loose from the cavity it was meant to treat. This can expose the tooth’s inner layers, leading to increased sensitivity and pain. These fillings will have to be replaced by your dentist to eliminate sensitivity to hot or cold foods.

Gum Disease

Gum disease is very common, with three out of ten adults suffering from some form of it. It is commonly a bacterial infection leading to inflammation and other changes in the gums that can be what causes teeth sensitivity.

Gum Recession

As we age, our gums naturally recede, though this can also be caused by gum disease, too hard brushing, and other things which can injure or irritate the gums. As the gum pulls back from the tooth, it can expose more sensitive layers such as the dentin, leading to much greater sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.


Sensitivity to cold or hotness can sometimes be caused by an infection deep inside the tooth, which can irritate or inflame the nerves there. This may sometimes require root canal therapy or even the removal of the tooth to eliminate pain, though a thorough examination by your dentist will determine your best treatment options.


Tooth pain caused by sensitivity to hot or cold can be intense, and the underlying reason for this sensitivity can be anything from gums that have naturally receded over time to an injury to the tooth itself. Though the best course of action depends on the particular cause, your dentist will be able to provide you with a treatment plan to alleviate the pain and repair any underlying damage. 

If you’re experiencing increased sensitivity or pain caused by hot or cold food and beverages, contact your dentist today for relief and proper treatment.