This article has been updated from a post originally published on 2/15/18.
Depending on where you live, you may be halfway through the cold season or have months yet to go. But while bundling up has become second nature during the winter, people often don’t think about the impact the cold, dry winter weather has on their oral health.
Believe it or not, there are several oral health conditions or symptoms that can appear or become more pronounced during the winter. This article will help you identify what to look for and how to treat any pain or discomfort you make experience during these colder months.
What’s different in the wintertime?
The most obvious challenges facing your oral health in the colder months are the lower temperature and drier air that can last for months on end. Like most rigid materials, your tooth enamel expands and contracts with temperature changes. And with less moisture in the air, it’s easier to become dehydrated, which can have a serious impact on the state of your mouth.
Fortunately, your oral health doesn’t have to be left out in the cold. Here are some common effects you may experience during the winter and how to relieve them.
Many people have sensitive teeth and experience sharp pain when eating particularly hot or cold foods. Tooth pain and sensitivity in cold weather creates a similar reaction, but for a different reason.
As you move from the warmth of a building or vehicle into very cold air, your teeth will tend to contract, which puts pressure on the nerves and pulls teeth away from the gums and underlying bone. In most cases, this is just momentarily uncomfortable, but in extreme cases, it can result in fractures and tooth loss.
The best option to protect your teeth is to keep your mouth closed as much as possible when in that chilled winter air. Breathe through your nose when making temperature transitions and wear a scarf or mask to help warm up the air entering your mouth.
More formally known as xerostomia, dry mouth is a fairly common condition, especially for those who may be taking multiple prescription drugs. In the winter, however, it becomes even more common because the air is so much drier and speeds up dehydration.
This is a problem because your mouth’s ability to fight bacterial infection depends largely on being regularly rinsed with adequate saliva. Moisture lubricates your oral functions and helps keep plaque under control with standard brushing.
You can combat seasonal dry mouth by drinking lots of water and reducing your intake of dehydrating food and drink, such as coffee, alcohol and sugar.
Both cold sores and canker sores become more prevalent in the winter because of dehydration and more exposure to germs being spread by others. While canker sores are not contagious, cold sores are. And both put stress on your immune system, which is already fighting off various illnesses during the winter months.
To remedy canker sores, try a salt water rinse by diluting a teaspoon of salt into a half cup of warm water. Though not the most comfortable feeling, swishing salt water around in your mouth for 15-30 seconds before spitting it out can help dry out canker sores and allow them to heal faster.
For cold sores, there are many over-the-counter creams you can buy to alleviate the sting and bring relief. You can also try home remedies such as lemon balm and aloe vera gel.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders are relatively common and not linked directly to wintertime. However, like arthritis and other joint disorders, cold weather and the accompanying drop in barometric pressure will usually make the symptoms of TMJ more pronounced. In some cases, the standard discomfort in the area surrounding the jaw joint can spread into headaches, neck aches, and toothaches. In extreme cases, it can even hamper jaw movement.
Sometimes, this pain goes away on its own and can be helped along by an over-the-counter pain reliever or anti-inflammatory. But if the problem persists, talk with your doctor about a stronger medication or other treatment.
The bottom line: In addition to bundling up in coats and hats this winter, make sure you also consider your oral health as the temperatures drop. Several common conditions can be amplified by winter weather, so keep an eye on your symptoms and seek treatment if necessary.