Why do we feel pain in our teeth when we eat something cold?

A protein and set of ionized channels hidden in the guts of the teeth hides the response to the pain we feel when we eat something cold. (Photo: iStock)

That sharp sensation that runs through the body and forces you to close your eyes, feeling pain in your teeth when eating something cold, could have its origin in a protein identified as TRPC5.

The TRPC5 protein was identified by a group of biologists who discovered that this “needle” that seems to pierce the nerves, in effect opens a channel that allows the flow of ions across the cell membrane of the teeth.

Why do we feel pain in our teeth when we eat something cold?

The findings of this group of scientists were published in the specialized journal Science Advances on March 26.

The research allows us to understand how it is that the cold from outside can pass in a material as hard as enamel and inner dentin of the teeth, and produce such an unpleasant and violent sensation.

Pain in the teeth when eating something coldTRPC5 channels are found in the odontoblast layer. Images of the research on the mechanism that causes pain in the teeth when eating something cold. (Photo: Odontoblast TRPC5 channels signal cold pain in teeth)

A first explanation is that the cells that produce TRPC5 proteins are cold receptors.

The above means that when the temperature drops and the cold is notorious, this protein opens and forms a kind of channel, a tubular conduit, whereby an ion flow occurs towards the cell membrane.

We talk about pain, and how about this feeling?

But how does the cold pass?

The research yields sufficient data to affirm that teeth are the most sensitive tissue in the body, at least to cold.

In fact, the data obtained show that there is indeed a communication channel between the outside of the tooth and its interior, where several nerve cells are hidden.

The origin of this exchange of sensations occurs in the protective enamel layer, here begins pain in the teeth when eating something cold.

Dentin is made up of two elements, a hard one made up of small tunnels, and a soft nucleus, known as the pulp of the tooth, where there is a wide branching of nerve cells.

In this region of the dentin there are some structures that were decisive for the study: odontoblasts, which are responsible for producing dentin.

A little hidden item

Experimentation with mice helped advance the research, since it was found that if the TRPC5 protein channel was modified, the pain disappeared, even with damaged teeth.

This observation allowed to amplify the research in human teeth.

The goal was to find an ion channel that would solve the mystery about how tunnels and nerve branches are linked inside the tooth, causing pain when eating something cold.

The result was positive. A small ion channel was found in the nerves and in other cells.

The researchers concluded, according to their publication, that this channel linked to TRPC5 proteins is associated with odontoblasts.

Within these elements, the TRPC5 opens when it receives a cold signal that passes through the dentin grooves, and from this point, the signal disperses the nerves, the result is that sharp and fleeting pain that forces us to touch the face to seek relief.

These ion channels are common in other areas of the body, for example in the eyes, specifically in the corneas.

Here, the ionized channels open when the weather is cooler, giving the sensation of dry or cold eyes.