Best Ways to Soothe Sensitive Teeth

If you scream -- for pain, not pleasure -- when you have ice cream, you’re not alone: Forty million adults in the U.S. have sensitive teeth.

Pain is triggered by highly sensitive nerves that reside deep inside a tooth. In healthy teeth, these nerves are shielded by a porous tissue called dentin, which is protected by your gums and by a tough outer layer of enamel.

When microscopic holes in the dentin, called, tubules, are exposed, however, food, drinks, heat or cold can irritate the nerves and cause pain. 

Sensitive teeth hurt, but you’re not doomed to never eat another fudgesicle again. Here are the best ways to find relief.

1. Use toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth.
Several ingredients, including fluoride and potassium nitrate, have been shown to reduce sensitivity by blocking pain signals transmitted from the nerves to the brain. Another ingredient to look for is stabilized stannous fluoride. It works differently, preventing sensitivity by blocking dentinal tubules. Follow directions for use on the packaging and don’t give up -- it may take up to two weeks to work.

2. Lighten up.
While it may seem counterintuitive, brushing harder is worse for your teeth, not better. Always brush gently, using a soft-bristled brush, to avoid injuring your gums and exposing tooth roots. Hint: If you recently replaced your toothbrush and the bristles are already pushed out sideways, you’re probably brushing too hard.

3. Avoid acidic foods and drinks.
Soda, citrus juices, sour candy and even pickles contain high amounts of acid that can erode tooth enamel. If it’s too difficult to eliminate them entirely, swish water around in your mouth after you eat or drink.

4. See your dentist.
“The underlying cause must be addressed to fully treat the problem of sensitive teeth,” says Dr. Elisa Mello, clinical assistant professor at New York University College of Dentistry. Tooth decay, receding gums or tooth grinding could be a main, treatable source of your woes. Troubleshoot with your dentist, who may suggest such in-office treatments as extra-strong fluoride gels, sealants, surgical gum grafts, a root canal, fillings or crowns.

The Worst (and Best) Sweets for Your Teeth

When trick-or-treaters ring my doorbell on Halloween, I toss a toothbrush in their bag. But make no mistake -- our neighborhood might as well be Candy Land. My kids got a scary amount of sweets last year, and they only went to a couple of houses. And because they were both too young to eat much of their loot, guess who was tempted by it? Yep, hubby (who has a major sweet tooth) and me, the dentist.

Luckily, trick-or-treating comes only once a year. But here’s what you should know about which sweets are the worst -- and best -- for your teeth before you let your kids go candy-crazy on those special (and not-so-special) occasions. 

The Trickiest Treats

  • Sticky sweets. Gummy bears, fruit snacks (which aren’t real fruit, by the way), fruit leather and caramels adhere to teeth -- so much so that they’re practically impossible to get off without a good brushing and flossing. Until you can get to the sink, the sugar in these candies feeds the bacteria that cause tooth decay.

  • Sour candies. These are troublemakers for a different reason: They are high in acid, which erodes tooth enamel. A recent study at the University of Alabama found that 24 popular sour candies have a pH level between 1.6 and 3 -- anything below 4 causes damage. Brushing right away actually makes matters worse because you’re scrubbing the acid onto your teeth. It’s better to neutralize it first by drinking water or plain milk. Follow up with your brush about a half-hour later.

These aren’t as bad as you’d think because they stimulate saliva, which is your mouth’s natural cleanser.

  • Chocolate. My personal fave, chocolate provides antioxidants called tannins (especially if you eat the dark kind), which may help prevent tooth decay. Of course, it also contains sugar (and lots of calories too), so you should still limit how much you eat.
  • Sugar-free gum. This is the only sweet treat that’s actually good for your smile; it contains xylitol, a substance that prevents tooth decay.

Our Family’s Strategy
We enjoy a couple of pieces of our favorite candy on special occasions like Halloween, then we brush or rinse to clean up our teeth. My office and many other dental practices across the country have Candy Buyback programs, where kids give up their sweets in exchange for a small amount of money. If your dentist doesn’t have such a program, create your own. This way, the candy is out of the house, and your child has a few dollars to buy a new book, a pack of markers or a toy. Now that’s sweet.

What Dentists Wish All Guys Knew

If you think taking care of your teeth is purely cosmetic, you couldn’t be more wrong. My research over the last decade links gum disease and health problems—especially problems affecting men.

The Prostate Connection
Let’s start with my most recent study. In it, my co-workers and I found that men with severe prostatitis, an enlarged prostate gland resulting in painful and difficult urination, were more likely to have gum disease than patients with milder prostatitis. 

I know gum disease and toilet troubles seem like a strange connection. But we actually predicted it, because the two conditions do share something in common. When a patient suffers from gum disease, the tissues in the mouth become puffy and irritated, causing the gums to pull back from the teeth. With prostatitis, the prostate gland is swollen and tender. The link between the two: inflammation.

The Fire Inside
Inflammation can happen all over your body. Heart disease is blood vessel inflammation, arthritis is joint inflammation, and Alzheimer’s disease is brain inflammation. And there’s plenty of research linking these health problems to gum disease.

How to Put Out the Fire
Will taking care of your smile help prevent health problems? Looks like it. Many studies show you can lower your chance of heart trouble with good oral hygiene. My current study aims to determine whether treating gum disease will help ease prostatitis symptoms, too.

For now, I’ll tell you this: If you’re too tired before bed to floss—or you’re thinking about blowing off your dental cleaning because you’re too busy—you’re not only gambling with your looks, you’re gambling with your well-being. Gum disease and a myriad of serious health problems are related; a terrific smile may be your ticket to a long (and healthy) life.

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4 Effortless Steps to Whiter Teeth

Some of my patients obsess over getting whiter teeth, and spend hours taking care of them. But the truth is that getting whiter teeth and healthy gums requires just a few minutes a day. Here’s how to do it:

Step No. 1 for Whiter Teeth: Brush After Your Coffee

Cleaning your teeth before you drink and eat doesn’t make much sense. And by the way, sipping coffee all day long without brushing afterward is a surefire way to stain your teeth. To keep my teeth white, I drink a cup in the morning, brush, and then I’m done. Grab your morning joe on the way to work? Then at least rinse your mouth with water when you’re finished. You should also be sure to rinse after consuming any of the following: tea, blueberries, curry, soy sauce, wine and (surprise!) dark-green veggies, like broccoli and kale.
Time spent:
Two minutes for brushing, 15 seconds for rinsing

Step No. 2 for Whiter Teeth: Stick out Your Tongue

While you’re brushing your teeth, spend an extra few seconds on your tongue -- that’s where a lot of the germs that cause bad breath hang out. Brush as far back as you can go without gagging. Once you start cleaning your tongue routinely, your breath will be much fresher.
Time spent:
20 seconds

Step No. 3 for Whiter Teeth: Floss With Your Feet Up

You can’t have a healthy smile (and good breath) without flossing once a day. There’s no other way to get rid of all the debris that accumulates in between teeth. But who says you have to do it in the bathroom? I floss in front of the TV. Technique is important too: Don’t just floss in between your teeth, draw it up against the side of each tooth and scrub as much of the surface as possible.
Time spent:
Two-and-a-half minutes

Step No. 4 for Whiter Teeth: Take a Look Around in There

Of course, your dentist will check for gum disease, but chances are you visit his office twice a year at most. If you notice that your gums are bleeding or getting puffy between appointments, give him a call. Gum disease is easiest to treat when you catch it early, plus you can avoid the bad breath, loose teeth and expensive dental work it causes.
Time spent:
10 seconds

Got any tricks for whiter teeth? Share below or tweet us @Completely_You

Are You Grinding Your Teeth -- in Your Sleep?

Other than forgetting to floss, you might be doing something that severely damages your teeth every night: grinding your teeth. And you might not even know it.

Nearly 10 percent of adults and up to one-third of children grind or clench their teeth in their sleep (and sometimes unconsciously during the day too), a condition known as bruxism. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, more than 95 percent of us will grind our teeth at some point in our lives -- but most of us will go undiagnosed. 

The Dangers of Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding can lead to poor sleep, headaches, earaches and jaw aches, as well as worn tooth enamel, making teeth highly sensitive or even fracturing them. It can also damage your jaw joints.

What causes this strange behavior? According the American Dental Association, bruxism can result from ongoing stress or an abnormal bite. Other suspects include obstructive sleep apnea, heavy alcohol use, caffeine, smoking and certain antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro and Paxil.

Get Teeth Grinding Under Control

Most people don’t realize that they grind their teeth until their sleep partner tells them (it can be very noisy!) or they visit a dentist who can see the evidence. This is yet another reason that regular visits to your dentist are so essential.

If you suspect you’re grinding your teeth at night, visit your dentist ASAP. She can assess the damage, help you figure out the causes and come up with a treatment plan. She might suggest one or more of the following:

· Relaxation exercises: Could psychological stress be a possible cause of teeth grinding? Then meditation, breathing exercises or applying a warm, wet washcloth to the side of your face might help. In more serious cases, counseling or hypnosis might be called for.

· A dental splint or mouth guard: These clear dental appliances are worn on the upper or lower teeth to prevent teeth grinding at night and sometimes during the day. The most effective -- and most comfortable ones -- are those custom-fitted by your dentist. Experts advise against buying mouth guards on the Internet or at a drugstore without your dentist’s input.

· Medication: Muscle relaxants and certain non-SSRI antidepressants might also help. If you are taking a SSRI antidepressant, your doctor might suggest decreasing the dosage or changing medications.

· Botox: Yes, the same stuff that can relax wrinkles on your forehead can also relax your jaw and stop you from clenching and grinding. According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, a double-blind, randomized clinical trial found that bruxism decreased “significantly” in the group that got Botox. The effects last several months. 

Have you ever had any problems with grinding your teeth at night? Talk about it below.

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