For teeth, eating or drinking sweets are a double whammy. Sugary substances can damage teeth, making them prone to sensitivity.
Ingesting sweet foods and drinks can also cause pain or discomfort to teeth that have become sensitized.
If you eat sugar often and don’t practice consistent oral hygiene, additional damage to your teeth and gums may occur. It can all add up to teeth that are overly sensitive to sugar as well as other sensations, such as heat or cold.
Sweets to avoid
Eating and drinking sweets can cause discomfort in teeth that are damaged or that have become highly sensitized.
Some of the worst offenders include:
Hard candies and cough drops. Sucking candies stay in the mouth for a long time, generating an acid bath for teeth.
Gummy or sticky sweets. Gummy bears, icing, dried fruit, and honey all stick to teeth, giving bacteria lots of time to grow.
Orange juice. It may not seem like a worst offender, but orange juice is high in sugar as well as naturally occurring citric acid, which can further erode teeth.
Carbonated soft drinks. Colas and other sodas are not only full of sugar, but they’re also acidic.
Damage to teeth can cause increased sensitivity to sugar. There are a number of causes:
Enamel (dentin) loss
Sugary foods and drinks contain fermentable carbohydrates. When fermentable carbs mix with harmful bacteria that live in the mouth, acid is produced. Unless the acid is rinsed or brushed away, it removes minerals from tooth enamel, causing erosion to occur. The loss of enamel makes teeth vulnerable and more sensitive to stimuli.
Tooth decay (cavities)
The bacteria that feed on sugar in your mouth cause a sticky film called plaque, which forms on teeth and under gums. The acid content in plaque causes demineralization of tooth enamel. Once the enamel is worn away, bacteria and acid are able to enter teeth, reaching the soft dentin inside.
Tooth decay leads to cavities. Cavities start out as holes in tooth enamel. If they’re not filled, they become larger and deeper.
Gingivitis (gum disease)
Plaque buildup can also lead to gum disease. When plaque hardens on teeth, it becomes tartar. Tartar and plaque can irritate gums, causing:
Inflamed, sore gum tissue can increase tooth sensitivity because of exposure of the tooth’s roots, which contain nerve endings.
Your gums are designed to cover bone and protect the root of each tooth. As you age, your gums may start to recede, exposing the roots of teeth.
Tooth whiteners use a substance such as hydrogen peroxide to lighten stains. To do this effectively, the peroxide needs to penetrate the tooth and reach the dentin inside. This can cause heightened sensitivity in teeth.
How it feels
If you have sensitive or damaged teeth, eating sweets may cause a variety of sensations to occur in your mouth and face. They include:
Sharp, stabbing, intense pain
Referred pain in your sinuses, eyes, or along the side of your face
If you have sensitive teeth or minor enamel loss, using a toothpaste designed to address these conditions can help.
Sensitivity toothpaste works by coating the dentin tubules in teeth. These are microscopic tubes that extend from underneath enamel into the tooth’s dentin layer.
Severely eroded tooth enamel may require dental bonding. If your teeth are bonded, a tooth-colored resin material will be affixed to your teeth.
If you have cavities, filling them will go a long way toward eliminating sensitivity.
Gingivitis and periodontal disease can be treated with deep cleaning, scaling, which involves scraping the plaque from your teeth, and antibiotics.
Receding gums can also be treated with scaling and deep cleaning, and may sometimes be corrected with topically applied antibiotics. If the condition is severe, surgical solutions such as grafting may be recommended.
Sensitivity after tooth whitening is often temporary. Avoiding sweets as well as hot and cold drinks for a few days may be all that is needed.
These tips will help keep your teeth healthy and head off pain when eating sugar:
Avoid sugar to help prevent cavities.
If you smoke, vape, or chew nicotine products, consider quitting.
Use a soft-bristled toothbrush at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.
Floss as often as possible.
Try to avoid alcohol-based mouthwash.
If you eat sweet foods or other foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as potato chips, brush after each meal.
If you can’t brush after meals, sugarless gum may be an option. Sugarless gum is also a good substitute for sucking candies.
If possible, visit a dental professional twice a year for a cleaning. A dentist would also be able to determine if you have tiny cavities that you may not be aware of yet.
When to see a dentist
See your dentist if:
You have tooth pain that doesn’t go away after a week of using a sensitive tooth toothpaste. You may have an infection or cavity that requires treatment.
Your gums are puffy, white, swollen, or bleeding.
You lost a filling.
You have pain or any type of sensation that worries you or interferes with daily activities.
The bottom line
Teeth that are damaged or sensitive may hurt when you eat or drink a sugary substance. Heightened tooth sensitivity can be caused by dental conditions such as enamel loss and cavities.
Taking care of your teeth can help keep them healthy and less sensitive to stimuli, such as sweet foods.
If you have sensitive teeth, they may also become painful from eating or drinking hot or cold substances.