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, this fear, in my opinion, is exaggerated and unwarranted. Let me explain.
Some tooth sensitivity after a tooth whitening procedure is absolutely normal. More than 50% of patients1 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?
During teeth whitening, dental-grade bleaching agents are often so powerful that they go really deep into the tooth enamel to whiten and brighten. In some cases, these bleaching agents get through the enamel into the dentinal tubules to the nerve endings below, thereby causing pain.
This sensitivity is known as dentinal hypersensitivity; the most prominent symptom of which is a sharp pain that worsens with pressure or exposure to hot or cold liquids.
Here’s something to note - while sensitive teeth can arise as a result of teeth whitening, this is NOT the only cause of sensitive teeth. It is estimated that sensitive teeth affect about 57% of all dental patients2, with the most common causes being brushing your teeth too hard, grinding your teeth and regularly consuming acidic food and beverages.
The good news is that dentinal hypersensitivity from teeth whitening rarely lasts longer than 48 hours, and there are steps you can take to prevent sensitive teeth after whitening.
How to reduce teeth sensitivity after whitening?
how to reduce teeth sensitivity before whitening
Change to a sensitive teeth toothpaste3 or gel at least one week before the teeth whitening treatment. These special toothpastes and gels are able to cover up the dentinal tubules or desensitise 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 desensitising 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 might experience sensitive teeth after 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 them so that you can avoid any pain or sensitivity after the whitening treatment.
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