Beat The Winter Dental Blues
Whether going for a refreshingly brisk walk or hitting the ski slopes, winter’s colder weather shouldn’t stop you from getting out and about this time of year. However, cooler temperatures and chilly winds can wreak havoc on your teeth, mouth, and lips, putting a damper on those activities you enjoy. While oral health problems can certainly arise any time of year, we are particularly susceptible to dental damage such as cracking teeth, tooth sensitivity, and bacterial infections, as well as chapped lips, cold sores, and more during the cold winter months. Follow these winter dental tips to help keep your smile in tip-top shape this season.
Teeth Sensitivity: If you have sensitive teeth, you may have noticed that this condition is exacerbated during the winter months, when colder temperatures and chilly winds can worsen pain and sensitivity. If cold air causes your teeth to hurt, it may be because your tooth enamel isn’t providing you with the protection against the chilly weather that it should, or perhaps your gums have receded and are exposing the sensitive roots of your teeth. If you are a sensitivity sufferer, opt for a toothpaste that is designed for sensitive teeth. This can help to minimize the intensified effect of lower temperatures on them. Additionally, try to avoid acidic beverages and foods that are hard on your tooth enamel this time of year. Acids can irritate the dentin and pulp layers of your teeth, causing sensitivity. Remove cavity-causing plaque by brushing twice a day with a soft-bristled toothbrush, which is easier on your teeth and won’t irritate them, making sure not to brush too hard.
Gum Disease: Be sure to keep up with your oral hygiene habits once the mercury drops to maintain teeth and gum health, as a weakened immune system can leave gums more vulnerable to inflammation and infections. Unfortunately, the same germs that make you sick each winter are the same ones that can cause gum infections. This is especially true if your gums are already susceptible to disease. Replace your toothbrush regularly, especially if you’ve recently been sick. Taking Vitamin C supplements can also be beneficial – not only do they help to boost your immune system, they also aid in collagen production, which is important for gum health. Additionally, avoid touching your face and mouth to help prevent the spread of bacteria to your gums. Also, rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash at least twice a day.
Jaw Pain: Cold weather can cause joints and muscles to tighten up – including those in the jaw. If you suffer from TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), winter can prove especially painful. To improve jaw discomfort or TMJ in colder weather, consider wearing a scarf or other face covering to help keep your jaw area warm and toasty when you’re out in the elements. You may also want to stick to warm, soft foods such as creamy soups to help alleviate the discomfort.
Chapped Lips: Dry, cracked lips can be an unfortunate side effect of enjoying outdoor winter activities. Exposure to wind, sun, and cold temperatures can damage the delicate skin on your lips, causing them to become rough and chapped. Applying petroleum jelly can provide soothing relief. Applying lip balm that contains a minimum SPF of 15 is an easy way to protect your lips from sun and wind. While indoors, install a humidifier to moisten the air and drink plenty of water to help keep your skin hydrated.
Cold and Canker Sores: Exposure to blustery winds and the bright winter sunlight can lead to those dreaded cold or canker sore breakouts. To help prevent mouth sores, protect the skin around your mouth – apply a daily moisturizer, preferably one with an SPF of at least 15; use lip balm (also with sunscreen); and wash your hands regularly to avoid the spread of viral bacteria between them and your face.
Cracked Teeth: Teeth expand and contract when exposed to hot and cold beverages and weather, which over time, can cause cracking (normal wear and tear may also contribute). Extreme temperatures can worsen these cracks, resulting in tooth pain and sensitivity. To avoid cracked teeth, wear a mouthguard while you sleep to prevent tooth grinding. Stay away from acidic foods and drinks that can wear down tooth enamel, increasing cracking chances. Sip beverages through a straw to eliminate direct contact with very warm or very cold drinks that could aggravate existing cracks. If you are experiencing a great deal of pain or discomfort from a cracked tooth, see your dentist, who can repair serious cracks with a filling, inlay, dental crown, or even possibly a root canal. Cracked teeth can lead to more serious issues and infections, so be sure to get them fixed as soon as you can.
Hydration: Drinking water not only helps to rinse sugar and acid off our teeth, it also keeps our lips and mouths hydrated and can prevent bacteria from developing in the mouth. However, once cold weather hits, many of us tend to reach for comforting beverages like tea, coffee, and hot chocolate, rather than that healthy glass of water. While that’s certainly enticing, continue to consume at least two liters of water a day to ensure proper hydration.
Good oral hygiene is an important step to keeping your teeth and gums healthy – and preventing other health issues. Contact your dentist if you have any cold weather dental concerns.
Dr. Edmond Suh
Owner of Supremia Dentistry, located at 1711 S. Main St. in Wake Forest.