Hate drinking cold drinks because it causes your teeth to hurt? Or maybe you never floss because each time you do, you end up looking like a vampire who’s just had a big meal.
Even if you have been brushing and flossing regularly, you may end up suffering from sensitive gums and/or sensitive teeth. If you find yourself suffering from one or both of these issues, you’ve come to the right place.We’re going to do a deep dive into sensitive gums and teeth, answering what causes them, how to treat them, tips for relieving pain, and what the long term outlook is if you suffer from them.
Sensitive Gums vs Sensitive TeethFirst and foremost, let’s start by discussing the differences between sensitive gums and teeth. The two are closely related, and it’s not uncommon to be suffering from both, but their symptoms and treatments will be different.
Symptoms of Sensitive GumsIf you have sensitive gums, you’re likely experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:
- Pain or soreness when you brush your teeth.
- Pain or soreness when flossing (either with string or with water)
- Bad Breath
If you’re experiencing pain when brushing or flossing, it’s common for it to gradually subside afterwards. For some people the pain can linger for longer.
Swelling and redness are always tough to see in gums, because gums are pink to begin with. The below illustration can help you identify healthy coloration vs inflamed gums. Red, inflamed gums can be seen in gingivitis (which can product mildly sensitive gums) and periodontitis (which can produce very sensitive gums):
Note that the gums with periodontitis are receding in addition to being a much deeper red. Some people are surprised to find out how “pale” healthy gums should be, assuming that mild inflammation is the healthy color of gums due to it’s more “pink” hue.
Causes of Sensitive GumsThere are a surprising number of potential causes for sensitive gums. One of the most common causes, gum disease, we have already discussed a bit above.
Gum DiseaseGum disease is just the generic term for either gingivitis or periodontitis. Gingivitis is the inflamation of the gums, while periodontitis is a serious gingivia infection that can damage the gums and the jawbone permanently.
Generally speaking, gum disease is caused by poor dental hygiene letting plaque accumulate between the teeth and gumline. This leads to an inflammatory response that ranges from mild (Gingivitis) to strong (Periodontitis).
In addition to causing sensitive gums, gum disease could result in sensitive teeth, but we’ll expand upon that later.
ScurvyWhile you may be tempted to think that scurvy was only something that affected sailors during the Golden Age of Piracy, it’s just a vitamin C deficiency, something that’s definitely possible to get today.
One of the many symptoms of vitamin C deficiency is sore, swollen and bleeding gums. So while it’s unlikely, especially if you’re taking multi-vitamins and/or eating a balanced diet, you could be suffering from sensitive gums due to a lack of vitamin C.
Smoking and VapingOne of the lesser known side effects of smoking and vaping is the fact that it damages and dries out your gums, over time this can lead to gum sensitivity as well as other oral health related issues, like tonsil stones. Tonsil stones can cause severely bad breath, so that’s another reason to limit smoking or vaping as much as possible.
Uncontrolled DiabetesIf your blood sugar levels are consistently above where they should be, it can lead to excess growth of bacteria and plaque in your mouth. This in turn causes gum disease which, as we’ve already mentioned, causes sensitive gums.
Oral Infections and other forms of gum damageAn obvious cause of sensitive gums is oral infections and gum damage, usually temporary, these can occur when:
- You’ve burned your gum tissue by consuming overly hot food or liquids
- You’ve eaten too many acidic foods (Pineapple is one thing people don’t realize!)
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Autoimmune diseases
If you’re regularly suffering from this you should definitely consult with your doctor/dentist.
StressToo much stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which in turn can cause inflammation of the gums and other parts of your body. That inflammation in turn can lead to your gums becoming sensitive. Learn more about the link between stress and inflammation here.
Symptoms of Sensitive TeethWhile sensitive gums can often go under the radar, sensitive teeth are often more quickly noticed. This is because their symptoms are more easily noticed. Symptoms of sensitive teeth include:
- Tooth pain from temperature variation (most commonly cold temperatures)
- Pain during brushing or flossing
- Pain when eating or drinking acidic or sugary food/drink
Causes of Sensitive TeethUltimately, the pain and discomfort you experience from sensitive teeth occurs because the dentin (the layer of teeth beneath enamel, which exposes your nerve endings), becomes exposed. So while technically that’s the only cause of sensitive teeth (there may be perceptually other causes, but that’s not sensitive teeth, per se), practically speaking it makes sense to identify what caused your dentin to become exposed in the first place!
Brushing Too Hard
One potential cause of worn down enamel is brushing your teeth too hard. This can occur in two different ways - first, it could be because you’re being too aggressive or brushing too much. You should be brushing your teeth with 150 to 200 grams of pressure.
The best way to check if you’re using too much force is to simulate brushing your teeth on a kitchen scale, but a quick way to check without the scale is to simply take a look at your brush. If it’s looking seriously frayed after a short amount of use, you’re most likely putting too much pressure.
But, even if you’re brushing with the correct pressure, and your toothbrush isn’t looking frayed, you could still be suffering because you’re wearing down the enamel when brushing. This can occur if your bristles are too hard.
The ADA recommends using toothbrushes with soft, multi-level or angled bristles. While they have found that medium bristles are effective at biofilm removal, the risk of abrasion is too high. So, if you’re using medium or hard bristle brushes, consider switching to soft brushes.
Receding Gums or Gum DiseaseRemember when we mentioned how sensitive gums and sensitive teeth are closely related? This is why. If you’re suffering from gum disease, not only can it produce sensitive gums, but it can also cause your gums to recede and expose your tooth’s root.
While the portion of teeth you’re used to seeing is covered in protective enamel, more than two thirds of each tooth is actually the root. The root is covered in cementum, which is a connective tissue that’s easily worn away revealing your dentin.
Loose FillingsIf you’ve previously had a cavity, your dentist may have remedied it with a filling. While filings are perfectly safe, and plenty effective, you may find your filling the source of sensitivity. This occurs in two cases. First, the filling will likely be sensitive when it’s first put into place, though that usually subsides somewhere between a few days to a few weeks.
But the second instance in which fillings can cause pain is when one has become loose or broken. Generally, this will occur years after it was installed, and while it doesn’t always cause sensitivity, it should always be addressed by your dentist.
Cavities or Tooth FracturesAn obvious cause for most, if your tooth has a cavity or fracture that can introduce sensitivity. This works on the same premise as the receding gums by revealing the dentin underneath your enamel.
Grinding Your TeethAlmost everyone grinds their teeth once in a while, and if you grind your teeth once in a blue moon, it’s not likely to cause harm. However, if you’re regularly grinding your teeth, you can quickly wear down the enamel leading to sensitivity.
Usually, this occurs due to stress and anxiety and happens while you're sleeping, so you may not even notice until you start experiencing pain.
Home Remedies for Sensitive GumsNow that we’ve discussed the symptoms and causes, let’s jump into how you can get relief from sensitive gums. We’ll start with home remedies and then move onto treatments you’ll need to visit your dentist for.
Salt Water Rinses
Salt has a long history of medical use, with usage noted in medical scripts as far back as around 8400 Human Era (1601 BCE). Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks used it for its antibacterial properties, and that’s one of the reasons you too might find use for it.
Salt water will help to inhibit the dental bacteria that cause inflammation, but that’s not all! The salt water solution will act as a minor abrasive helping to clean the teeth and gums, carrying debris and other particles out from the spaces between your teeth and around your gums.
So how do you create a salt water rinse? Easy: mix a teaspoon of salt with a glass of warm water. Then once it’s completely dissolved into the water, you can take the saltwater and swish it in your mouth for 30 seconds. Once done spit out the water.
You can repeat it 2-3 times a day, but more than that could damage the enamel.
Hydrogen PeroxideHydrogen peroxide is an effective disinfectant and one you may already be using for oral care. How? Teeth whitening! We’ll elaborate on Hydrogen Peroxide’s teeth whitening properties in another blog post, instead focusing on its ability to help with sensitive gums.
Hydrogen peroxide can help heal sensitive gums by both disinfecting and breaking up plaque. One thing to note is that you’ll want to be careful to avoid swallowing as swallowing could cause stomach aches or more severe side effects.
But, used right, it has been shown to treat the underlying gum disease that can cause sensitivity.
Tea with Astringent PropertiesLet’s first define astringency and which teas are astringent. Astringency is defined as the property of causing skin cells and other tissues to contract. In other words, it’s that dry or puckering feeling when you consume certain foods or beverages. When it comes to teas, those which contain tannins and catechins are astringent. Usually, that boils down (pun!) to green or black teas.
While merely drinking the tea has been shown to have benefits, placing tea bags after they’ve been steeped and cooled to a warm temperature directly against the gums may prove to be more beneficial.
Tea Tree Oil
Another home remedy you may see recommended for sensitive gums is tea tree oil. And while this does in fact promote healthy gums it has a drawback. Tea tree oil increases levels of plaque. For this reason, it’s probably better to stick with some of the other home remedies on our list.
TurmericA member of the ginger family, turmeric can be used to reduce swelling, pain and inflammation. Some websites also suggest that turmeric can be used to help alleviate tooth decay and cavities, but we could not find any studies backing or refuting this claim.
To use turmeric to reduce gum sensitivity, mix ½ to 1 teaspoon of turmeric with enough water to make a paste.
Over the Counter NSAIDsOne of the most straightforward choices, merely taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) will help reduce inflammation and pain in your gums. Whether you pick Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Naproxen doesn’t matter all that much, but one thing to note is that NSAIDs are not a cure for gum sensitivity, they’ll just alleviate the symptoms.
Oral Anaesthetic GelsBenzocaine gels can be bought over the counter and are purpose made to relieve the pain from common gum and teeth ailments. While effective at reducing both tooth and gum pain, this is another option that only treats the symptoms and not the cause.
Improve Your NutritionIt seems that every day we find new ways that our diet interlinks with common health ailments. Gum sensitivity is no different with some nutrients being linked in particular to reduced gum disease. You can read more about the particular nutrients here, but since this guide is already getting quite lengthy we’ll just list out some foods that may be helpful to eat if you suffer from sensitive gums:
- Macadamia nuts, pistachios and/or sesame seeds
- Salmon and/or other fatty fish
- Bone broth
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potatoes
- Kefir, sauerkraut and/or kimchi
Improve Your Oral Care (Flossing in Particular)One of the biggest things you can do to reduce sensitive and painful gums is to up your oral care game. Only 16% of Americans report flossing daily, an oral care step that’s vital to maintaining healthy gums.
The main reason people don’t floss every day is because it takes too much time, and if you find yourself in that camp, Instafloss is the perfect solution. Unlike other flossing methods, which can take up to 15 minutes, Instafloss flosses your entire mouth in just 10 seconds!
See what makes Instafloss the best floss now.
Home Remedies for Sensitive TeethWhile some of the home remedies for sensitive gums cross over to sensitive teeth, not all will also prove to be effective for sensitive teeth. The methods below are shown to be be effective for sensitive teeth in particular:
Clove OilType “Clove Oil” into Google and your first result is likely referring to its use for toothaches. This essential oil is extracted from the clove plant, Syzygium aromaticum. It’s active ingredient is eugenol, a natural anesthetic.
What makes clove oil particularly interesting as a home remedy is that a 2006 study found it to be just as effective as benzocaine. This makes it a scientifically backed home remedy, but that’s not without caveats.
If you accidentally ingest it, it can cause stomach discomfort, and several people have noted online that it has an unpleasant taste.
Oral Anesthetic GelsSpeaking of benzocaine, it too is available as an over the counter medicine, meaning it’s easily accessible as well. Benzodent is a popular option, but any gel should work. Simply apply it to the affected tooth and surrounding gums.
Unfortunately, while it takes under a minute to kick in, it also rapidly loses effectiveness. This makes these a very temporary option for relieving pain. You’ll find they're best used when you’ve experienced a sharp spike in pain such as consuming something that was too hot or cold.
Garlic, in addition to being tasty, is a great home remedy for sensitive teeth. You may think that this means you have free reign to eat as many garlic rolls as you’d like but this won’t actually cut it as a home remedy.
The recommended “recipe” for garlic when creating a sensitive teeth remedy is to add a clove and a ½ teaspoon of salt to just enough water to make a paste. The amount of water will differ based on the size of garlic used, but will typically be just a few drops.
The method with which garlic works to relieve pain is two-fold. The active compound, allicin, acts as a natural anti-bacterial and a pain reliever. This makes garlic unique because it has the potential to both attack the cause of your sensitive teeth and to address the symptoms. Of course, this depends on the cause of your sensitive teeth!
Dentist Prescribed Treatments for Sensitive GumsWhen it comes to dentist prescribed treatments for sensitive gums, it all depends on the root cause. We went over some of the most common ones already, but causes could be something unexpected such as cancer which would require its own specialized course of treatment.
Most of the time however, your dentist will start with doing a deep clean to remove built up tartar and plaque. If your doctor suspects that an underlying condition could be the cause of your sensitive gums, they may run blood and imaging tests and prescribe treatment accordingly.
Dentist Prescribed Treatments for Sensitive TeethSensitive teeth are commonly caused by cavities, a damaged filling or cracked crown. No matter the cause, your dentist is going to prescribe a treatment plan that targets the root cause of your tooth sensitivity. This could include:
- Replacing or adding a crown
- Root Canal
- Tooth Extraction
- Replacing or adding a dilling
- Flouride Treatments
- A mouthguard to protect from grinding
Tips for Flossing with Sensitive GumsThe biggest change you can make to your flossing routine if you’re frequently bleeding after flossing is by switching to water flossing. Water flossing has the benefit of using water molecules which are small enough to get in between your teeth and gums without forcing their way in. This is in contrast to string floss which can actually cause further damage to the gums without cleaning as deeply!
When first starting out, set your water pressure to its lowest setting and work your way up as you feel comfortable. Looking to learn more? Check out water flossing’s other benefits.
Tips for Flossing with Sensitive TeethWhen it comes to flossing with sensitive teeth, many people fear that flossing can cause sensitive teeth. This is true if you’re aggressively flossing with string, but if you’re using proper technique and/or water flossing then you won’t need to worry about this issue.
One tip which we’ve seen many water floss users report working well is to floss with lukewarm water. Some of the members of our team have tried this technique and found that it also increases comfort while flossing, so we can personally vouch for this method!
Preventing Sensitive Gums and Sensitive Teeth
You’ll notice this is one of the few instances in which we’ve combined sensitive gums and sensitive teeth into one point, and that’s because the prevention methods for the two are the same!
First and foremost, ensuring you have consistent and proper oral hygiene habits is key. This means brushing and flossing your teeth twice a day, every day. On top of that, you need to ensure that your technique is correct. This means brushing for 3 minutes with a gentle back and forth motion, and flossing as long as necessary to ensure that the entire gum line and each space between your teeth is cleaned.
A great way to check if you're getting a great clean is to use a plaque disclosing tablet before brushing and flossing. This will show you if you’re getting a complete clean or if you’re missing some plaque.
The next thing to consider when preventing sensitive gums and teeth is your diet. Consuming large amounts of sugary foods gives harmful bacteria plenty of food to multiply. This causes a couple of issues. First, you’re going to see increased inflammation in the gums as your body tries to fight off the bacteria. Then the bacteria will also begin attacking your teeth themselves, leading to cavities.
On top of this the best preventative maintenance you can do is to simply see a dentist sooner rather than later! Many people put off going to a dentist because of fear of pain, expense, or just inconvenience, but the quicker you see a dentist, the less damage any inflammation or cavities can cause.
Outlook for Individuals with Sensitive GumsIf you currently suffer from sensitive gums, you may be wondering whether or not they can be successfully treated. This depends in large part on the severity of your underlying condition. We discuss this more in our blog post on flossing pain, but to briefly cover it here:
Typically, you’ll either be suffering from periodontitis or gingivitis. If you’re suffering from Gingivitis the sensitivity can be completely avoided and damage/recession of the gums restored. However, if you’re suffering from periodontitis, the damage to your gums becomes permanent. If the damage and gum recession is bad enough, it’s possible that pain can be quite prolonged. However, even if damage has been done, you should always prevent gum recession from becoming worse.
Outlook for Individuals with Sensitive TeethSensitive teeth are a more complex issue. There are too many different types of causes to give a true outlook. That being said, even in the worst case scenario, your dentist will be able to provide a treatment that relieves pain and leaves you with a beautiful looking smile.
ConclusionThere are a myriad of home remedies for sensitive teeth and gums that can help alleviate some of the pain associated with these conditions, but ultimately, the best thing you can do is visit your dentist and have them provide you with a personalized treatment plan.
Remember, visiting a dentist early can keep whatever is causing your pain and sensitivity from getting worse, which will save you from increased pain and permanent damage in the future!