Spice Is Maybe Not So Nice

Think Only Hot and Cold can Trigger Sensitivity? Think Again!

Biting into a popsicle or a super hot french fry might not feel great on your teeth, causing some sensitivity that feels even worse than it sounds. But sometimes that sensitivity can also be caused by that Thai curry with a few spicy pepper emojis next to it on the menu.

So what’s exactly going down with your teeth when this happens? Dentin, which is the layer of your tooth right under the enamel, or cementum, the layer of your tooth covering its root, might be a little exposed. The exposure can be caused by receding gums, leaving them open and ripe for whatever you’re eating or drinking to mess with it. “Tooth decay starts with bacteria and gets worse when you feed it a steady diet of processed sugars,” warned Dr. Alia Ezziddin of Enamel & Root in Wilmette, IL. But you don’t have to ditch your Sriracha addiction so fast. Ways to combat this include seeing your doc who can prescribe or recommend a special toothpaste or even just practicing proper oral care, which can help keep your gums healthy and all layers of your teeth covered up properly. “

Of course, sensitivity isn’t the only way your teeth are affected by spicy foods. In fact, experts can’t really agree on whether spicy foods are a good or bad thing for your oral care. On one hand, some docs say that hot spices can irritate and stretch your gum tissue, sometimes even causing microtears that can make it easier for food to invade your gums, causing even further irritation or even infection. Although there’s research saying cayenne pepper can help kill bacteria, that’s not necessarily the case for the mouth.

Another downside to spicy food? It can cause acid reflux, which can come back up from your esophagus to your throat causing acid in the mouth that can erode your tooth enamel. There are over-the-counter meds that can help, but ask your doctor before you start taking any.

Meanwhile, other experts say that the vitamins and minerals in some spicy foods and spices can actually help your teeth. Our friend Dr. Alia Ezziddin chimes in “Spicy food can actually have some beneficial effects on your overall oral health.  For example onions (which are usually found in spicy dishes) contain manganese, which helps bind calcium to your bones and teeth.  They also contain vitamin B6 & vitamin C and folate, which can all reduce inflammation.  And Onions won’t stain your teeth :)” Ok, whew! But that’s not all. “Chili powder has a lot of Vitamin A, which is also helpful in protecting your bones, gums and teeth.  Hot chilis also have something called capsaicin in them, and that can also alleviate pain from toothaches in the mouth. Although it won’t cure the cavity or infection in the tooth, the heat from the chilis can take away some of the pain in your mouth,” Dr. Ezziddin added.

Though these vitamins and minerals can help with inflammation and calcium intake throughout the entire body, it’s pretty unclear if they can actually help the mouth and your teeth ASAP. That said, if spicy foods are causing major irritation that you can feel, try to limit your spicy food intake. “Bottom line again is: everything in moderation,” Dr. Ezziddin concluded.