The summer is here which means it's ice cream season. You bite into your favorite flavor and ⚡ ZING ⚡ tooth sensitivity strikes. It's a painful feeling that makes eating your favorite treats and desserts a scary experience. The good news is tooth sensitivity is often addressable at home with the right professional guidance and at-home hygiene products.
If you experience tooth sensitivity, you aren't alone. More than 50% of US adults have sensitive teeth. And that number is on the rise. But don't worry, we have you covered. We'll get into the reasons why your teeth might be sensitive to sugar, and what you can do to make sensitivity to sweets a thing of the past.
Teeth hurting when eating sweets: hello dentin
Tooth sensitivity is caused when your dentin - the layer of tooth beneath your enamel, is exposed. Dentin is very porous (like a sponge). When air, liquid, or foods reach the dentin they sneak into the pores and find their way to the sensitive pulp of your tooth. When anything touches the inside of your tooth, the nerves are stimulated and send a "zinging" sensation through the tooth.
"Why does this happen? Well, the nerves in your teeth are very sensitive. This sensitivity allows you to feel how much pressure you exert so you don't bite too hard when you're eating. When your enamel erodes and exposes the inside of your tooth, your tooth becomes sensitive to even the smallest things, like air going over your tooth." shares Dr. Kevin Walker, DDS.
There are two reasons why your dentin might be exposed. First, the enamel (the hard structure on the outside of your tooth) is wearing down or eroding. Second, your gums are receding and exposing the dentin that sits below your gum line.
If the sensitivity seems to start from the surface of your tooth, your enamel might be weakening. There are several factors that cause your enamel to weaken:
- Leftover food particles caught on your teeth. If you don't get all that food out with your toothbrush and a floss / water pik, it turns into acids that eat away at your enamel.
- Eating acidic foods and drinks. Think coffee, oranges, sparkling beverages, or grapefruit.
- Exposure to stomach acids that happen in conditions like bulimia or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Grinding and clenching your teeth. The extra force and grinding motion quickly wears down your enamel.
However, if you notice the sensitivity tends to start near your gum line, your gums might be receding. Here are a few factors that can cause your gums to recede:
- Periodontitis (gum disease) is the main cause of gum recession. This means bacteria have infected the area and are damaging the gum tissue.
- Brushing your teeth too aggressively. That's right, brushing too hard or with the wrong technique can actually pull back your gum tissue.
- Not cleaning between your teeth. You guessed it, not flossing. The bacteria hides and thrives between your teeth.
- Grinding and clenching your teeth. The extra force not only wears down your enamel, it wears down your gums.
- Hormonal changes. A change in hormones makes the gums more sensitive which makes more sensitive to bacteria. That's why pregnant women experience more issues, even though their mouths have the same levels of bacteria as before their pregnancy.
- Medical conditions such as diabetes can also affect it.
- Smoking and tobacco. The sticky, icky stuff from tobacco sticks to your teeth and makes it hard to properly clean with your toothbrush.
Gums hurt after eating?
If your gums feel sore or hurt after you're eating, it might be a sign that your gums are inflamed, making them more sensitive to food and pressure. Inflamed gums indicate you are experiencing some form of gingivitis or periodontitis. More than 45% of Americans older than 30 have some form of periodontitis, so it's super common. Check out our blog post on gingivitis for what you can do to keep your gums healthy.
Dry mouth after eating sugar
Too much sugar can have you reaching for a glass of water. And while you may have heard that dry mouth is a symptom of diabetes (true), it is not true that if you have dry mouth you are diabetic. If you are concerned about diabetes (like if you are experiencing other symptoms or have a history in your family), consult your physician.
Sugar hurts my teeth … no more! Here's what to do about it
"When patients mention they have minor tooth sensitivity, I am so happy they bring it up," shares Wally hygienist Iman Zayed, RDH. "Catching enamel erosion and gum recession early is key to stopping it from getting worse, and taking actions at home to restore the mouth to a healthy foundation."
Here are the top tips from our clinical team to address sensitivity:
- Brush at least twice per day with a soft-bristled toothbrush for two minutes to ensure you're scrubbing all the nooks and crannies around the gum line.
- If you use a manual toothbrush, consider upgrading to an electric sonic toothbrush with soft bristles.
- Use appropriate toothpaste and mouth rinses that target enamel restoration and help neutralize acids in your mouth
- Floss or use a water pik daily to keep the spaces between your teeth clean (of course we had to mention this).
- Wear a night guard if you grind or clench your teeth.
- Chat about your sensitivity with your dentist
If you have tooth sensitivity, don't feel resigned! Get your free consultation with a Wally hygienist (including in your free at-home starter kit) and chat through your custom plan and products to combat sensitivity from home.
Want to learn more about tooth sensitivity? Check out "Tooth sensitivity: your ultimate guide" for everything you need to know from what causes sensitivity, and what you can do about it.