Winter is here, and so are colder temperatures. But while most people bundle up in warm gear before heading out into the chill, many people do not realize that their teeth need protection from colder temperatures, too. We spoke to Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX about protecting your teeth during the winter months.
Good old winter- time for ski trips, ice skating, and depending on where you live, maybe even snowman-building. Getting outside in the fresh air can be a great mood-booster for those winter blues, but it can also damage your teeth. Scientists have discovered that exposure to cold air can cause your teeth to contract- and then expand again once the teeth are heated back to normal body temperature. This expanding and contracting puts your teeth at risk for pain, sensitivity, and in some cases, it can even cause them to crack and fracture.
According to Hill, the normal temperature of your teeth is 98.6 degrees – the same as the inside of your mouth. But while our teeth experience a variety of temperatures throughout the day thanks to the varied temperatures of the foods we eat, exposure to cold air can be particularly dangerous to teeth- especially with prolonged exposure. "Even though our teeth are used to a wide range of temperatures on any given day, exposure to outdoor temperatures can often be more harmful to our teeth. Unlike with your morning latte or glass of ice water, outdoor exposure can often last much longer than it would take to finish a drink," says Hill.
But it’s not simply the exposure to the cold air you need to worry about- you could also be harming your teeth thanks to another cold weather induced behavior: teeth grinding. "When it's cold outside, we have a tendency to grit or grind our teeth- especially if we are bracing against the wind or our teeth are chattering," explains Hill. "This can not only increase the instance of fractures in the teeth, but it can also put pressure on the neck and jaw, and cause a great deal of discomfort."
So, what can you do to protect your teeth from the cold air? For starters, Hill recommends breathing through your nose when you go outside. "Breathing through your nose allows your cheeks, saliva, and tongue to insulate your teeth and keeps the warmth of your body temperature inside your mouth," he says. "Another option is to cover your mouth with a ski mask or a scarf. This way if you must open your mouth you have a little bit of a barrier from the elements."
Hill also recommends being aware of what you’re doing with your teeth when your mouth is closed. "We often grind our teeth without realizing we’re doing it, which makes stopping difficult," he explains. "If you’re aware you’re doing it, immediately stop yourself." For those people who plan to spend a lot of time participating in outdoor sports this winter, Hill recommends investing in a high-quality bite guard. "We often grind our teeth when exerting ourselves during strenuous physical activity. If you grind your teeth in cold weather, chances are you’re grinding them other times, too." Custom fit-bite guards aren’t cheap- with many costing upwards of $1000, but Hill believes that despite their cost, they are a wise investment in the health of your teeth. Says Dr. Hill, "It’s the one piece of ‘winter gear’ you can use it year-round, or even while sleeping."