You may have heard that teeth whitening is not healthy for teeth in the long run, and can cause undesirable side effects like teeth sensitivity. For these reasons, many patients steer away from this procedure—especially in-office ones. As a dentist who has performed countless teeth whitening procedures, I believe that this fear is exaggerated and unwarranted.
Some tooth sensitivity after a tooth whitening procedure is absolutely normal. More than 50% of patients experience mild sensitivity that goes away after a few days.
So while some sensitivity is not uncommon, it can be easily prevented with some simple steps before, during, and after the whitening treatment:
Why do teeth become sensitive after whitening?
Teeth whitening can cause sensitivity because the bleaching agents used in these treatments can penetrate the enamel and reach the dentin, which is the layer of tissue beneath the enamel that contains the tooth’s nerves. When the bleaching agents reach the dentin, they can irritate the nerves and cause pain.
The pain caused by teeth whitening sensitivity is often described as a sharp, stabbing pain that can be triggered by cold, hot, or acidic foods and drinks. In some cases, the pain can also be triggered by brushing or chewing.
The good news is that teeth whitening sensitivity is usually temporary and will go away on its own within a few days.
How to reduce tooth sensitivity with teeth whitening?
How to reduce teeth sensitivity before whitening
- Switch to a sensitive teeth toothpaste or gel at least one week before the teeth whitening treatment. These special toothpastes and gels can cover up the dentinal tubules or desensitize the nerve endings in the dentinal tubules.
How to reduce teeth sensitivity during whitening treatment
- If you are doing it at home, adjust the timing according to the level of sensitivity experienced. If there is any tooth sensitivity, try having more sessions for shorter periods of time.
- Be sure to apply only the necessary amount of whitening gel to coat each tooth. Using more gel doesn’t necessarily mean your teeth will be whiter, but can instead lead to more sensitivity. This is a common mistake patients make – more does not always reap better results!
- Never sleep with your teeth whitening kit in. Wearing the kit for a prolonged period of time will only allow more of the bleaching agent to enter the dentinal tubules to reach the nerve endings. Furthermore, if you sleep very soundly, you may miss minor discomfort which are warning signs of sensitivity.
How to reduce teeth sensitivity after whitening
- After teeth whitening, you may want to ask your dentist to prescribe or recommend a prescription-strength toothpaste or gel that is specifically used for reducing sensitivity.
- Brush your teeth gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush and rinse your mouth with lukewarm water rather than cold water. Leave the desensitizing toothpaste or gel in your mouth for an additional few seconds to give it some time to work its magic.
- Avoid hot or cold drinks as they can stimulate your nerve endings to cause pain.
- Lastly, if you wish to have longer-lasting whitening results, I strongly urge you to avoid staining beverages like coffee or tea. If you can’t avoid them, you may want to use a straw to help liquids to bypass sensitive teeth.
While it is a fact that some people may experience sensitive teeth after teeth whitening treatments, there are many things you can do before, during, and after treatment to prevent it. If you have any questions, feel free to speak to our team of dentists who will give you more tips and advice on how to properly care for your teeth so that you can avoid any pain or sensitivity after the whitening treatment.
It is also important to go for frequent dental checkups with your dentist to ensure there are no problems with your teeth. With a little bit of effort, you no longer have to worry about sensitive teeth after teeth whitening.
- Jorgensen, M. G., & Carroll, W. B. (2002). Incidence of tooth sensitivity after home whitening treatment. Journal of the American Dental Association (1939), 133(8), 1076–1095. https://doi.org/10.14219/jada.archive.2002.0332
- Splieth, C. H., & Tachou, A. (2013). Epidemiology of dentin hypersensitivity. Clinical oral investigations, 17 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S3–S8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00784-012-0889-8