Did the toothpaste make my teeth hurt?
January 7, 2008 11:00 PM   Subscribe

I have bad teeth. So how come the flouride toothpaste my dentist prescribed to decrease cavity formation and problems is making my teeth actually hurt?

I have really bad teeth. I usually get 2-5 cavities fixed a year and for a pretty young person with good oral hygiene history, I've had an astonishing number of problems (2 root canals before the age of 24).

My new dentist told me that some people have a toxic element to their saliva- it is breaking research, she told me, so breaking that I couldn't find it alluded to on google scholar, but she thought we could cut down on the number of cavities I experience by giving me a fluoride toothpaste (as well as six fillings)

I don't typically have mouth pain, but about a week after I went home and started using the toothpaste, I started experiencing pain in my mouth. Low-level, (hitting around a 4/10) it also resulted in increased sensitivity to heat, cold, and sweets around where I had the fillings. Not too big a deal, but at night when I'm trying to sleep or concentrate, the throbbing, omni-present pain bugs me.

Last night I decided to try going back to my old toothpaste, Sensodyne. Today the pain is totally gone. Here's my question: every source I've found online says that fluoride should promote health, less pain, and basically good tooth hygiene. So did my prescription fluoride toothpaste make my teeth hurt? I don't get it!
posted by arnicae to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sensodyne is specifically made for people with sensitive teeth, so it seems fairly logical that if you have sensitive teeth, Sensodyne would be less likely to bother you.

In my own case, I do not have particularly sensitive teeth, and I have never had a cavity, but Sensodyne made me teeth ache; any toothpaste with baking soda also bothers me (after using one for about a month I made an emergency dentist appointment because I was convinced I had multiple cavities). I think different people may just react to different toothpaste ingredients in different ways, not all of them pleasant.

(Also, Sensodyne does contain fluoride, just probably not as much as a prescription toothpaste might.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:08 PM on January 7, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I think the prescription toothpaste is 1.1% fluoride, compared to 0.145 in Sensodyne
posted by arnicae at 11:21 PM on January 7, 2008

Response by poster: But I've used Sensodyne for years (on my previous dentist's suggestion that *it* might help increase the healthiness of my mouth environment.
posted by arnicae at 11:22 PM on January 7, 2008

Response by poster: As a test, I just used my partner's normal Crest toothpaste to see if the pain reemerges.
posted by arnicae at 11:22 PM on January 7, 2008

Potassium Nitrate is used in treatments for sensitive teeth, like Sensodyne toothpaste. Perhaps this is what relieved your pain and not the amount of fluoride.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:28 PM on January 7, 2008

But I've used Sensodyne for years (on my previous dentist's suggestion that *it* might help increase the healthiness of my mouth environment.

Right. And your teeth didn't hurt. Then you stopped, and they started to hurt. Sounds like the Sensodyne did what it was supposed to do -- kept your teeth protected from irritants while you were using it -- and the new toothpaste -- which is not designed for sensitive teeth -- is bothering your sensitive teeth. I'm not sure what fluoride has to do with anything.

Having sensitive teeth and having "bad" teeth are not the same thing. The prescription toothpaste might be good at helping prevent cavities, but that doesn't mean it's designed for sensitive teeth. The Sensodyne might be good at helping prevent your teeth from being bothered by cold, heat, or sweets, but that doesn't mean it's somehow making your mouth stronger even after you stop using it.

I would talk to your dentist about the side effects you're having and ask her which toothpaste makes the most sense to continue using, or whether you should switch to something else entirely.
posted by occhiblu at 11:36 PM on January 7, 2008

I totally, totally feel your pain. Every new dental hygienist who has the pleasure of sticking their hands in my mouth inevitably will reexplain the proper flossing and brushing techniques I've been practicing for two decades. I always end up feeling like they see me as the five year old who says they floss every day but start bleeding as soon as that floating white string comes near them.

Anyway, my sympathies.

Is the "fluoride toothpaste" you were prescribed actual toothpaste, or just brush-on gel? Maybe that's a dumb question, but I have (in my many years of troubled-teethdom) been prescribed different stuff to help combat cavity formation, but it has always been different kinds of brush-on fluoride. This gel looks like toothpaste... but is to be applied after normal brushing. In which case: Sensodyne, then friendly fluoride gel.

If this is the same stuff/you start using fluoride brush-on, be warned. Too much fluoride can discolor your teeth. This discoloration can usually be scraped off if you sit long enough in the dental hygienist's chair, but it's pretty lame unless you're willing to go in once a month. I now use ACT Fluoride rinse with relative success.

And finally, seconding calling up your dentist. In the end, they'll probably know better than us.
posted by liverbisque at 12:48 AM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Liver, I called my dentist, who simply thinks that one of the filings she filled might have a crack. She encouraged me to "baby my teeth" until their next available appointment in March. I switched because I have new insurance and am now wondering what I've got myself in for. . . She is a 40 y/o dentist with braces who thinks that Godiva chocolate causes more cavities than Hersheys (and, incidentally, that Godiva is the highest quality chocolate in production)

It is a toothpaste. I have a brush on gel, too, which I use on a semi-regular basis.

I know what you mean: I seem to get a new hygienist every visit to every dentist, and all of them are sure they can save me and my teeth with a simple demonstration of healthy brushing and flossing. I now have a "guilt-free dentists only" policy.
posted by arnicae at 12:55 AM on January 8, 2008

It sounds like the sensodyne was doing what it's supposed to, make your teeth less sensitive. When you stopped they became sensitive again. Nothing to do with the new toothpaste at all, but with stopping the old. Maybe you could brush three times a day? Twice w/ sensodyne and once w/ the flouride toothpaste?

posted by Jahaza at 4:09 AM on January 8, 2008

When I was younger, my family dentist prescribed Prevident 5000 (1.1% flouride) to both my mom and me for sensitive teeth, and we both experienced significantly increased sensitivity. However, I kept using Prevident on and off for a few years because the dentist insisted it would "eventually work." It never did.

When I told my current dentist about my Prevident experience, she said it wasn't unheard of and prescribed MI Paste, which you're supposed to rub on your teeth with your finger and not brush or rinse off. Unfortunately, I've been really bad about applying it, so I can't say if it worked for me.
posted by korres at 4:21 AM on January 8, 2008

I'm assuming since you said it's 1.1%, that it's a sodium fluoride, which is neutral Ph-wise. I was going to say that if it was stannous fluoride, you get more of a zing from the acid. The pain you are describing and the result you are getting from the Sensodyne, I'm going with the "you stopped the Sensodyne, so the sensitivity came back" camp.

However, if you are prone to cavities, I'd keep up with the fluoride treatments as well. I'd experiment, with doing the fluoride first, then the sensodyne after, because the potassium nitrate will block the absorption of the fluoride into your teeth, but then cover things back up after, hopefully rendering you with non-hurting teeth.

If your sensitivity seems to be coming from exposed root surfaces, you may want to put glops of the sensodyne on those specific areas and don't rinse away. Also just because an area is painful, don't back away from keeping it clean, use tepid water that won't cause a temperature reaction, use the softest bristles you can buy, or even better a sonicare electric brush and keep those suckers clean.

If nothing seems to get better, and it is specific root surfaces that are causing you pain, your dentist can paint on a fluoride varinish in her office. Some dentists charge way too much for this procedure though.
posted by Jazz Hands at 4:24 AM on January 8, 2008

Another, less elaborate, idea would be to alternate the Sensodyne and the prescription toothpaste, so that you get both each day. That's if you would rather not do multiple layers of products each time you brush your teeth.
posted by bassjump at 5:44 AM on January 8, 2008

The flouride toothpaste prescription I just got said to use it after brushing with my regular toothpaste. Perhaps you could try brushing with the Sensodyne, and then following that up with the flouride.
posted by stevis23 at 6:58 AM on January 8, 2008

find a new dentist right now. a cracked tooth/filling is what qualifies as an "urgent" appointment and you should get in there this week, not 2 months from now. also, yours sounds like a quack.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:20 AM on January 8, 2008

FWIW, about 10 years ago I was at some middle school summer science camp thingy and they had us do an experiment where we chewed wax for a minute and then ran some chemical test on the saliva that got embedded in the wax. This test was supposed to show how susceptible we were to cavities. People who were very susceptible would get them even if they did all the brushing and flossing; people who were on the other end of the spectrum could let their dental hygeine slide a bit and still be cavity free. So maybe there's something to that toxicity study your dentist mentioned.
posted by ahimsa at 11:22 AM on January 8, 2008

Seconding misanthropicsarah. A cracked filling can (and probably will over a span of a couple of months) lead to an infection. Root canals, while not the excruciating experience many make them out to be, are not something to risk. Besides, abscesses usually hurt badly.

Of course, it may just be sensitivity.

BTW, if you don't like your dentist, or feel she's giving you the care you desire, find a different one. Back when I had insurance, I went through a few. Now that I don't, I still see the same one because he's good at what he does. My first indication was that he was willing to forgo they money he'd make pulling my second two wisdom teeth, telling me instead to please go see an oral surgeon, as I would have a much better experience. (He recommended an awesome one, which only reinforced my confidence)
posted by wierdo at 12:56 PM on January 8, 2008

I've been brushing with Gel-Kam after my regular Crest without any extra sensitivity or the staining others have mentioned. (I've also tried using the ACT mouthwash but felt that it left my teeth a bit blue.) Perhaps you should switch brands?
posted by samthemander at 3:02 PM on January 8, 2008

I have on/off sensitive teeth (from too vigorous brushing I think) and I use Sensodyne with a fluoride rinse twice a day. Listerine makes one - it's the purple one.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:40 PM on January 8, 2008

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