Having sensitive teeth is common: As many as 40 million Americans report having some pain in their teeth when eating or drinking hot, cold, acidic, sticky, or sugary foods, according to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). Women and young adults as well as those with receding gum lines reported the most tooth sensitivity in a study of nearly 800 patients at dental practices in the northwestern United States that was published in The Journal of the American Dental Association in March 2013.
While foods that are very hot or very cold can cause tooth pain, avoiding these eight foods in particular may help you find relief:
1. Soda. This is one of the top foods to avoid for sensitive teeth, says John T. Grbic, DMD, a professor of dental medicine and director of the division of foundational sciences at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in New York City. Soda has two ingredients that can irritate exposed teeth nerves: sugar and acid, he says, “so it’s a double whammy.”
2. Ice cream. “Ice cream is not only cold, but it has sugar that can cause teeth to be more sensitive,” says Jordan Taylor, DMD, a dentist with Stonecreek Dental Care in Huntsville, Alabama. People with sensitive teeth lack the enamel layer that acts as a protective barrier. “Without that layer of enamel to insulate your nerves, the temperature of the food can be more aggravating,” he says.
3. Hot coffee. Hot foods can also cause your teeth to hurt, and sweetening your steaming coffee with sugar can make pain even worse. Dr. Taylor suggests adding some milk to your coffee. The milk helps to slightly lower the temperature of the coffee as well as its acidity, so it’s less damaging to your teeth, he says.
4. Hard candy. When you have sensitive teeth, skip hard candy such as lollipops, peppermints, and suckers. Not only are they full of sugar that can cause tooth pain, but they could also cause teeth to chip or break, according to the American Dental Association.
5. Sticky candy. These sweet treats, such as toffee, caramel, gummy bears, and licorice, have a few strikes against them, especially for people with tooth sensitivity. Besides being full of sugar, they can stick to your teeth.“Extremely sweet and sticky foods can stimulate the nerves in the dentine, which is similar to tooth enamel but not as hard, and has tiny microscopic holes to further expose the nerves,” says Eugene Gamble, MClinDent, a periodontics specialist and oral surgeon in the United Kingdom.
6. Citrus fruits. Pineapple, grapefruit, lemons, and limes are all highly acidic fruits, and the acid can make your teeth more sensitive, according to the AGD. This is because they wear away at tooth enamel. Keep in mind that both eating these fruits and drinking the fruit juice can trigger tooth sensitivity and pain.
7. Tomatoes. Although tomatoes are a good source of vitamins, especially vitamin C, they’re also highly acidic, so be sure to avoid them if your teeth are sensitive, says Victoria Veytsman, DDS, of Cosmetic Dental Studios in New York City. Note that tomato sauce as well as raw tomatoes can trigger tooth sensitivity.
8. Ice. Even if you can tolerate cold drinks, resist the habit of chewing ice, Dr. Grbic says. Ice can be problematic for sensitive teeth, because it’s both cold and hard.
If you have sensitive teeth and symptoms persist for more than a few weeks or become unbearable, be sure to talk to your dentist. Sensitive teeth may be a sign of a more serious health issue, such as a cavity or abscess that needs to be treated, according to the Oral Health Foundation.