Many of us can’t resist the allure of a sugary treat, be it a piece of chocolate, a slice of cake, or a yummy soft cookie. But for some, this indulgence comes at a price – a sharp pain or discomfort in the teeth. Ouch! Luckily, tooth sensitivity is common, and can be remedied with either simple at-home oral care or an appointment with a qualified dentist.

So if you’ve ever wondered, “Why do my teeth hurt when eating sweets?” – you’re not alone. To fully understand why this discomfort occurs, we need to take a closer look at the anatomy of our teeth, the effect of sugar on our oral health, and the underlying causes of tooth sensitivity. So, let’s take a look!

Understanding Tooth Sensitivity

As you likely already know, our teeth are made up of multiple layers; the outermost layer, known as the enamel, is tough and protects the inner layers, while beneath the enamel is the dentin, a porous substance that surrounds the tooth’s pulp, which houses nerves and blood vessels.

When the enamel wears down or becomes damaged, the dentin can become exposed and lead to pain. This is because the dentin contains tiny tubules filled with fluid, and eating sweets or consuming hot or cold beverages can change this fluid’s flow, causing nerve irritation. This is why you might experience a sudden jolt of pain or a prolonged ache after indulging in something sweet.

Common Causes of Tooth Sensitivity

So, what causes tooth sensitivity? Several factors can lead to the exposure of dentin, increasing your teeth’s sensitivity:

Tooth Decay

Cavities or tooth decay can erode the enamel of the teeth, exposing the dentin and making the tooth more sensitive to stimuli like sweets, as well as hot and cold temperatures.

Receding Gums

With age or due to gum diseases like gingivitis, gums can recede, exposing the tooth’s root, which is not protected by enamel. This can heighten sensitivity and be incredibly painful, especially when eating hot, cold, or sugary foods.

Cracked Teeth

Another cause of sensitivity is chips or cracks that can expose the tooth’s inner layers, leading to sensitivity when consuming sweet foods or beverages. Cracked teeth can occur due to injury or trauma, but can also be caused by chronic teeth-grinding, also known as bruxism. Worn fillings can also weaken, break, or leak over time, allowing the sugar to affect the nerve.

Note that an untreated cracked tooth can cause further dental problems such as infection and tooth loss; if you think you have a cracked tooth, it might be time for a visit to the dentist.

Why do Sweets Cause Tooth Sensitivity?

So, if you ever find yourself wondering: “why does eating sweets hurt my teeth?”, here are a few common reasons:

Sugar’s Impact on Dental Health

As your dentist may have already told you as a child, sugar isn’t great for our teeth. But why? It’s simple: the bacteria residing in our mouths thrive on sugar; when we consume sugary foods, these bacteria produce acids as a byproduct, and this acid can erode the protective enamel, leading to tooth decay and increased sensitivity. The more frequently you expose your teeth to sugar, the more chances you give the bacteria to produce these harmful acids.

Acidic Ingredients and Tooth Enamel

Many sweets, especially certain gummy sweets and soft drinks, contain acidic ingredients, such as citric acid. Citric acid, commonly found in sour sweets and some fizzy drinks, can hasten enamel erosion in a process referred to as ‘demineralisation’. This double assault – the sugar feeding bacteria which produces acid, combined with the acidic ingredients of the sweets themselves – can significantly weaken the tooth enamel.

Types of Tooth Sensitivity

While general tooth sensitivity is common, the discomfort can manifest in different ways:

  • Transient Sensitivity: This is a brief, sharp flash of pain when the teeth come in contact with sweets or other triggers, and quickly subsides once the stimulus is removed. This may signal the beginning of enamel erosion.
  • Prolonged Sensitivity: This is a more sustained, throbbing pain that lingers even after the sweet has been consumed, and may warrant a visit to the dentist.
  • Localised Sensitivity: Localised sensitivity describes pain or discomfort that is restricted to a particular tooth or a specific area in the mouth. This also warrants a trip to the dentist, as it indicates tooth decay.
  • Generalised Sensitivity: This is when multiple teeth or large sections of the mouth react to stimuli, and indicate widespread enamel wear or multiple areas of concern.

How to Prevent Sensitivity to Sweets

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to sacrifice your love for sweets or chocolate entirely in order to maintain good oral health. Instead, simply adopt some preventive measures, and you can enjoy them in moderation without dreading the aftereffects:

Regular Dental Hygiene

Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing can help reduce the chances of enamel erosion and gum recession, so this should be a non-negotiable in your oral hygiene routine.

Fewer Sugary Snacks

One way to reduce discomfort is to reduce frequent snacking on sugary foods; when you do indulge (in moderation, of course), try to brush your teeth or rinse your mouth afterwards.

Avoid Acidic Foods and Drinks

Another way to limit sensitivity is to limit the consumption of highly acidic foods and drinks. Just like with sugary snacks, follow up anything acidic with water to neutralise the effects.

Use a Soft-bristled Toothbrush

Aggressive brushing can promote both enamel erosion and gum recession, so make sure to use a soft-bristled toothbrush and brush firmly, but not aggressively.

Regular Dental Check-ups

Finally, routine visits to the dentist can help detect and address issues before they escalate, so we recommend a dental check-up every 6-12 months to ensure optimal oral hygiene.

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’ve tried home remedies and still find yourself wincing in pain every time you eat something sweet, it’s crucial not to ignore these signs; persistent tooth sensitivity can be indicative of underlying dental problems that require professional intervention, and will likely only worsen the longer you ignore them.