I can’t tell you how many times I have had people come into the dental office with the complaint that their teeth hurt when they brush or drink cold drinks, right at the gumline. As a dental professional I will look into their mouth and find a hint of gum recession, which is where the root of the tooth is getting exposed to the air.
Why is this problem happening?
The answer may be as simple as brushing at the wrong time every day.
To explain what I mean let’s review a few things.
Your teeth are made of cells that are hard from minerals like calcium and phosphorous packed in a tight formation, kind of like bricks and mortar.
Your mouth is kept constantly moist by glands secreting saliva, or spit. Saliva protects your teeth against acids from foods and bacteria and replaces lost minerals in the teeth.
What does that have to do with sensitivity?
Every time you put something in your mouth that has sugar, carbohydrates, or acid in it, it changes your mouth. Have you ever heard of the pH scale? It goes from 1 to 10 and rates how acidic something is. Your teeth begin to dissolve if the pH gets to be more acidic, or below neutral, which is 7.
Here is a list of common foods and drinks on a pH scale. Notice how many are below neutral, or on the left of the chart. Those closer to a 1 or on the left side of the chart are really bad for your teeth. Those that are above neutral or on the right of the chart are more basic and not as bad for the teeth.
Now the part I want to get to is about your time of brushing.
After you have eaten something with a lower pH it lowers the pH of your mouth. When your mouth’s pH has dropped, the very worst thing to do is to brush your teeth.
Well, you have acid all over your teeth, and when you brush with acid on your teeth, it will corrode and damage the tooth surface. Do that over and over and over again and it will errode the tooth especially at the gumline where the tooth is very vulnerable.
Dr. Wyatt Rory Hume, Dean of the University of Utah School of Dentistry, suggests that instead of brushing right after every meal, its is best to brush when there is no acid on your teeth. You get a better absorbtion of minerals in the enamel when you have a basic mouth and no acids present. There is only one safe time a day that fits the bill, and that is first thing in the morning before you eat anything.
So throw out the brushing after every meal tradition, it’s actually going to make you more sensitive and do more damage to your teeth than good.
Instead, get up every morning, go in the bathroom, and do a very thorough brush with your remineralizing toothpaste BEFORE EATING! Then your teeth are covered with armor to start out a day of getting food thrown at them.
So you may be wondering what you can do after you eat so your teeth don’t feel gross. Dr. Hume again has the answer, and that is to chew something hard, like celery, carrots, apples, cucumbers, peppers…..you get the idea. Or chew some xyiltol sweetened gum for a few minutes.
What does that do?
The chewing motion starts your saliva glands producing more saliva. That watery liquid washes over the teeth, neutralizes the acids, and raises the pH in your mouth. But the pH doesn’t return to it’s normal level for hours, perhaps even the rest of the day, and so it is important not to run a toothbrush or toothpaste, which acts like sandpaper to your teeth, until the pH is high again.
So to reduce gum sensitivity and have stronger teeth, Dr. Hume suggests brushing only in the morning and not brushing the rest of the day. You can floss if needed or use a water pik during the day or before bed, but try to reserve brushing with toothpaste only in the morning.