Anyone who’s ever suffered the twinge of touchy teeth on impact with hot tea/ ice cream/ plain old fresh air will know that sensitive teeth are no joke. Whether a short, sharp shock or a lingering sting that lasts far longer, sensitive teeth can make everything from brushing to eating to conversing far harder and limit your suitability for treatments such as teeth whitening. While there’s no instant cure for tender teeth, the following dos and don’ts can help to minimise pain, encourage teeth to grow stronger and even stop sensitivity before it sets in. Here are the habits to take up and a few supposedly healthy rituals to ditch…
Don’t start your day with hot water and lemon
A practice that’s rumoured to facilitate digestion (although actual facts on this are thin), sipping hot water and lemon first thing puts teeth at risk of developing sensitivity and exacerbates any existing sensitivity you may be experiencing. It’s all to do with tooth erosion, which deteriorates the enamel on your teeth, eventually exposing the softer, highly sensitive dentine layer underneath. Citrus fruits are a particularly notable culprit where teeth sensitivity is concerned, as Sameer Patel , clinical director at Elleven Dental explains:
“Foods containing a high level of citric acid can horrifyingly have the same pH level as the acid in your stomach (basically, it’s strong stuff). The acidity from these citrus fruits causes the enamel of your teeth to erode - it’s the same process that can happen over time if you eat lots of sweets.
“Acid erosion can increase teeth sensitivity and when eaten regularly, citrus fruits can contribute to the buildup of plaque and tooth decay. I recommend chewing gum after consumption to rehydrate the mouth and promote the production of saliva.”
Saliva helps to keep the mouth healthy by reducing acidity and promoting enamel hardening, but cutting back on your steaming steeped lemon in the morning in the first place could have dramatic results where soothing sensitivity is concerned. Another tooth friendly move in the morning might also be a bit of a curveball compared to what you’ve previously been taught…
Do brush your teeth as soon as you get out of bed
Dr Patel doesn’t advocate waiting it out until after your Weetabix:
“You should brush your teeth as soon you wake up to brush away the bacteria that has formed in your mouth overnight. Then, after you have eaten breakfast, rinse with a fluoride mouthwash.”
In terms of alleviating sensitivity, brushing first thing prevents bacteria nibbling away at your previous enamel, plus you won’t be brushing your breakfast around your mouth straight after you’ve eaten it, which is also bad news where sensitive teeth are concerned according to dentist David Cocker :
“When acid has just attacked the surface of the enamel (i.e, after breakfast) it is left in a ‘softened state’ and if you brush your teeth soon after, you will accelerate this wear. By delaying brushing your teeth by up to two hours it will allow time for the saliva to wash over the teeth and harden the enamel surface.”
If two hours isn’t feasible, waiting at least 40 minutes after eating before you go near a toothbrush should suffice. Speaking of toothbrushes…
Do use a soft to medium toothbrush
Go hard or go home doesn’t apply as far as brushing your teeth goes, particularly if yours are sensitive. David has a particularly stark warning with this one:
“I advise patients to use the softest, kindest toothbrush they can find because you only have so much enamel on your teeth, and that has to last a lifetime. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!”
Yikes. It turns out toothbrush abrasion is a thing according to London Smiling dentist Dr Uchenna Okoye , and the way you’re brushing could be making your teeth more sensitive:
“Brushing your teeth isn’t a reason to show off your muscles; there’s absolutely no need to brush aggressively and flex those biceps. Scrubbing with vigour is not effective and in fact it can wear away enamel (the natural defences of your teeth) which increases sensitivity.”
Don’t forget to replace your toothbrush or toothbrush head at least every three months to avoid scrubbing your teeth and gums and ensure that you’re thoroughly removing plaque and bacteria. Once you’ve got your tools and technique sorted, introducing a specialised toothpaste can help enamel to remineralize.
Do tailor your toothpaste to your teeth
Buying toothpaste isn’t something we think long and hard about either, but if indeed your enamel could do with help in the hardening department, Dr Uchenna has some advice as to what to look for at the chemist’s:
“There’s an array of toothpastes considered to help ease the pain of sensitive teeth and top up your defences. Many contain potassium nitrate, which helps block the tiny tubules in the dentine, which in turn reduces sensitivity. Making this your daily toothpaste will harden your teeth and reduce how reactive your teeth are to stimulation.”
Given that a third of 18-35 year olds in the UK have weakened tooth enamel according to Oral B , many of us could probably do with tweaking our toothpaste in this regard. If you have any particularly sensitive hotspots you can also apply a small amount of toothpaste locally and leave it on to reduce pain and help to strengthen teeth. Just make sure that your toothpaste contains at least 1350 ppm (parts per million) of fluoride and ideally 1500 ppm if you’ve got sensitive teeth.
Don’t brush too often
Turns out our teeth are pretty demanding- they want our brushing frequency just so according to Dr Patel:
“You should only brush your teeth two, or maximum three, times a day. Over brushing may result in gum recession and wear of your teeth, which can expose further dentine and the root surface layer of the teeth, which is not naturally covered with enamel and therefore very sensitive.”
If it’s painful to brush your teeth even this much, try using warm water from the tap rather than freezing cold to reduce sensitivity, and book in to see your dentist who may be able to get to the direct root of the problem (weak pun intended). Your dentist may also be able to paint your teeth with a varnish to bolster your natural enamel or apply a numbing gel to make any dental treatment or investigation far more comfortable.
Do rethink your Prosecco order
Us Brits got through 35.8 million gallons of Prosecco last year according to accountancy firm UHY Hacker Young (the bookkeepers are keeping an eye on our booze intake too it seems), but the popularity of Italian fizz is causing particular problems for sensitive teeth sufferers apparently. Dentist and founder of WhiteWash Laboratories Matthew Lloyd delivers the bad bar order news:
“The damage caused by Prosecco can be quite significant if you don’t look after your teeth properly during and after drinking it. Prosecco contains roughly one teaspoon of sugar in each glass, which can lead to tooth decay, and the high level of acid in the bubbles from carbon dioxide attacks and erodes the enamel in the teeth.”
Prosecco is a particularly toothy issue as the Prosecco grape variety is more sugary and acidic than Champagne, Cava or white wine. So how to handle your next wedding, graduation, bottomless brunch or other free flowing Prosecco kind of occasion? Moderation aside, Matthew has a few tricks up his sleeve to reduce sensitivity:
“Ideally you should swill water around your mouth and teeth in between each glass consumed and wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after finishing your last glass.”
Swallowing the water might help to take the edge of off your hangover too. Just a thought. If you were thinking of chasing a night out with a virtuous Nutribullet creation, you might want to apply the same sensitivity safeguarding to your smoothie as well…
Do go easy on green juice
And all juice really (see citrus fruit above), but don’t be fooled that a green blend is necessarily an immediate elixir of life. Just as fizzy drinks and high sugar foods can cause acid erosion, so can fruit and vegetable based juices, so relying solely on smoothies for your daily vits isn’t to be recommended (not least because you’ll skip vital fibre too ). Dr Patel backs this up:
“Green smoothies may be all the rage but in reality consuming large quantities doesn’t do your oral health any favours. These green juices and smoothies are made by blending leafy green vegetables with fruit to sweeten the taste. The juice from fruit and vegetables, especially fruit, tend to have a high acid content which severely damages the enamel of your teeth. Although fruit and vegetables are considered healthy acids, this is only the case when they are consumed as a whole, rather than as a concentrated juice.
“Fruit’s natural sugar, fructose, is also a common cause of cavities as the bacteria in the mouth feed on it, so be careful when you do consume juice as part of a balanced diet. Make sure you drink juice or smoothies through a straw (ideally an eco friendly option) and try to wait at least 30 minutes before brushing your teeth after consuming a green smoothie”.
Do check that you’re not grinding your teeth
Teeth grinding, or bruxism as it’s medically known, can cause tooth damage, enamel erosion and sensitivity but it can be tricky to tell if you’re doing it, as most teeth grinding occurs at night. Read our guide to working out if you’re grinding your teeth and share any concerns with your dentist.
Do eat cheese
You don’t need to have a cheese plate at every meal (dammit) but David is a fan of tucking into a square of cheese after eating as “it will raise the plaque calcium levels and help to harden softened enamel.” At least that’s our excuse - it’s as gouda suggestion as any. Sorry this article is ending soon I promise.
If you’re not a cheese eater, chewing sugar-free gum for twenty minutes or so is even more beneficial “to increase the flow of saliva ten fold and accelerate the hardening of the enamel surface.” Emmental or Extra, it’s your choice.