girl with toothache from eating sweets holds side of her face in pain

Why Your Teeth Hurt When Eating Sugary Foods

You’re about to enjoy your favourite candy bar. As you take your first bite and start chewing, you feel a sudden jolt from one of your teeth.

Sound familiar?

Tooth sensitivity is common, but what causes this and how can it be prevented? There are reasons why some people may be more prone to sensitivity than others, depending on age, diet, and overall oral health. Let’s take a look at some common causes of tooth sensitivity and what can be done to prevent or treat it when it occurs. 

Why Your Teeth Ache When Consuming Sugary Foods

You may have wondered why you feel an odd sensation in your teeth or gums when you eat a particular treat or drink a cold glass of juice. It’s important to know some of the reasons behind tooth sensitivity so you can address potential causes. 

What Causes Tooth Sensitivity: 

  • Enamel loss: The hard outer layer of the teeth is known as enamel. Over time, it can wear down. Substances that cause a buildup of acidity, including sugary foods, citrus, and carbonated drinks, can gnaw away at this hard layer, leaving the more sensitive parts of your teeth exposed. Sugar, along with hot and cold temperatures, can cause sensitivity when enamel erosion is present.
  • Brushing hygiene: Improper brushing techniques can contribute to tooth sensitivity. Brushing with a hard-bristled or damaged toothbrush can wear away at enamel and irritate or injure your gums, as can brushing vigorously or using an abrasive toothpaste. Neglecting to floss can also be problematic, as bacteria buildup on teeth and along the gumline can create enamel erosion, cavities, and gum disease.
  • Pre-existing cavities: The formation of plaque on your teeth and under the gumline leads to acid accumulation which wears away enamel. Once enamel is worn, bacteria are able to enter the teeth and cause holes known as cavities (caries). Unfilled cavities allow food, bacteria, and liquids to enter your teeth and cause uncomfortable sensations or pain. Cavities can be detected during a routine dental exam and filled to prevent further damage to the teeth.
  • Gum disease: Gum disease (gingivitis) can occur when plaque remains on teeth and hardens, creating tartar. If not removed, this accumulation of bacteria can cause a number of problems, including swelling, bleeding, and infection. It can also create receding gums, which happens when the root of a tooth is exposed. The roots of teeth contain nerve endings, so any exposure makes your teeth vulnerable to sugar or temperature sensitivity. Age, tobacco use, and improper brushing technique can also cause gum recession.
  • Tooth whitening: Although it’s not uncommon to have sensitive teeth after a whitening treatment, you should talk to your dentist if the discomfort lasts for more than a few days. Whitening substances often contain hydrogen peroxide, which lightens stains by penetrating the tooth. This can cause heightened sensitivity.  

Common Symptoms

Not everyone experiences tooth sensitivity the same way. Some may feel a mild tingling or a dull, aching sensation; others may feel “itchiness” along the gumline or sharp, throbbing pain. In some cases, those with sensitive teeth can experience referred pain elsewhere in the face, such as in the sinuses or around the eyes. Regardless, tooth sensitivity can cause a great deal of distress, especially if the discomfort is hard to pinpoint or starts to impact daily activities. 

How to Prevent Toothache When Eating Sweets

Tooth sensitivity can be unpleasant, but it’s not untreatable. There are a variety of prevention tools that can be used at home to silence sensitivity, including making modifications to your dental hygiene practices and eating habits.

Prevention Tactics:

  • Watch your snack habits: Preventing sensitivity doesn’t mean saying goodbye to your favourite snack foods or beverages. In many cases, tooth and gum irritation can be helped by controlling your intake. Limit sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes so acid doesn’t wear as much on your teeth. Instead of reaching for acidic drinks such as carbonated beverages, coffee, or juice, choose water. Sugar feeds acid-producing bacteria that break down your tooth enamel over time. Foods high in carbohydrates but low in nutrients, such as potato chips, should be consumed in moderation also. Be sure to eat a nutrient-rich diet that contains minerals such as calcium to help build strong bones and harden your tooth enamel. If you aren’t able to brush your teeth after meals, consider rinsing with water. Not only does water help remove food debris left behind after eating, but it also stimulates saliva production which reduces acid buildup in your mouth.
  • Find a candy alternative: Chewing sugarless gum may be a good choice versus snacking on hard or sticky treats such as dried fruit, gummies, or candies. Food that stays in the mouth for an extended period creates an acidic environment for bacteria to grow in; the bacteria wear away at tooth enamel and can cause cavities. Chewing gum that contains an alternative sweetener to sugar will give your tastebuds a sweet treat, but also stimulate saliva production which in turn helps wash away bacteria that would otherwise stay in your mouth.
  • Review your daily regime: A good oral hygiene routine is your best defence against many common dental issues, including tooth sensitivity. Brush your teeth twice a day using a soft-bristled toothbrush and practice a gentle brushing technique. Ensure you floss daily and talk to your dentist about investing in a water flosser if your gums are especially sensitive. The type of toothpaste you use is also important. There are a variety of non-abrasive, fluoride toothpastes on the market designed for sensitive teeth and gums. Your dentist or dental hygienist will be able to help you choose one that is right for you.
  • Avoid sugary mouthwash: Look for a mouthwash that doesn’t contain sweeteners. You may also want to consider one that does not contain alcohol. Ask your dentist for advice on what rinse may be best for you.  
  • Pause teeth whitening treatments: Over-the-counter or in-office teeth whitening can cause or exacerbate existing gum or tooth sensitivity due to the presence of stain-lightening hydrogen peroxide in the whitener. It is not uncommon for teeth to be sensitive to hot, cold, or sugary foods after treatment; however, if discomfort persists after a few days, talk to your dentist about other potential causes.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking: Consuming alcohol and smoking can cause a variety of oral health problems, including the erosion of tooth enamel. Cutting back or quitting the consumption of alcohol or tobacco-based products is good for your dental and overall health. If you need help quitting, talk to your healthcare provider. 

Snack Alternatives for Sugar-Sensitive Teeth

Substitutes for sugar can be helpful if your teeth are prone to sensitivity. Instead of sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, try alternatives such as xylitol, erythritol, or stevia. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in many fruits and vegetables; it has fewer calories than sugar but with comparable sweetness. Erythritol is a low-calorie sweetener that studies show can lower plaque buildup and aid in cavity prevention. Stevia, a sugar substitute made from leaves of the stevia plant, lacks carbohydrates that feed the oral bacteria that promote tooth decay. 

What You Can Do To Treat Your Sugar Sensitivity

So, you’ve done everything you can think of to eliminate your tooth sensitivity, yet the uncomfortable sensations exist. What are the next steps?

Don’t Delay

Although there are several things you can do at home to avoid or reduce tooth sensitivity, sometimes professional intervention is necessary. Call your dentist right away if you experience any of the following:

  • Unexplained swelling or bleeding of the gums
  • A lost filling
  • Pain that interferes with your daily activities, including consuming hot or cold foods and/or drinks
  • Tooth or gum pain that doesn’t subside after brushing with toothpaste made for sensitive teeth

Book An Appointment

If you are concerned about tooth sensitivity or another dental issue, contact Dr. Bains and the Lewis Estates Dental Centre team today. Whether it’s a routine appointment or a dental emergency, we are here to make sure you get timely, thorough care.