10 Strategies to Cope With Teeth Whitening Sensitivity

Teeth whitening is one surefire way to boost your self-confidence and improve the look of your smile. We've all seen the dazzling white smiles that Hollywood actors throw around the red-carpet, so what strategies do they use to get their teeth so bright and white?

Dental teeth whitening is a rather simple procedure that can be accomplished either at the dental office or at your own home. The only downside to whitening your teeth is the sensitivity that sometimes develops.

Teenage girl whitening teeth
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Tooth sensitivity is experienced as a rush or wave of pain usually as a response to cold air or water. If you suffer from tooth sensitivity then you may want to re-consider a whitening regime. However, there are ways to combat this issue and still allow yourself to whiten your teeth and achieve that beautiful smile.

Although the exact cause of sensitivity from whitening is largely unknown, we do know that the properties of peroxide—one of the main ingredients in most tooth whitening products—have been shown to irritate the tooth nerve. This irritation or inflammation causes symptoms such as cold sensitivity and a tingling sensation.

Tips to Reduce Sensitivity

Try the following techniques when whitening your teeth at home if sensitivity occurs. If you have the procedure done in a dental office and start having issues with sensitivity, feel free to try some of these techniques, but be sure to follow any instructions given to you by your dentist.

  1. Follow the instructions. It's important to follow your dentist's instructions when using a professional product or the manufacturer's instructions for the over the counter products. (Never whiten your teeth for longer than recommended.)
  2. Cut back. Try cutting back to every other day once the sensitivity starts along with shorter application times. Sometimes just giving your teeth a short break between treatments can help to alleviate the symptoms.
  3. Take pain-relievers. Taking Advil or Aleve can help reduce the symptoms if taken before applying the whitening product. Taking it ahead of time may prevent the symptoms from surfacing.
  4. Use a lower peroxide product. Check to see if you are using a product with a lower peroxide level (6% to 10% is a relatively low peroxide level for most people). While you may think that the higher the level of peroxide, the better the result, it is not worth it if you and your teeth are miserable.
  5. Limit cold drinks and foods while you are whitening. Teeth may be temperature sensitive under normal conditions, but whitening can really exasperate sensitivity issues.
  6. Don't overuse whitening products. When used to excess, they have the potential to make your teeth very sensitive or even damage them.
  7. Use fluoride rinses and/or sensitivity toothpaste. These can help alleviate the symptoms. Fluoride treatments are also sometimes recommended either before, during or after you whiten your teeth.
  8. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. The softer bristles are gentler on your teeth and gums and can help cut back on your symptoms.
  9. Notify your dentist. Always call your dentist if your sensitivity issues persist or worsen. There may be another cause such as gum recession or cavities.
  10. Ask your dentist about desensitizing products that can be applied at the office. When used correctly, they have been known to be effective at reducing sensitivity due to many different causes.

Although tooth sensitivity with whitening is very common, it is usually of short duration, lasting typically 24 to 48 hours.

Years ago, most teeth whitening products contained very harsh ingredients that were found to actually damage teeth and cause extreme sensitivity. Products have improved greatly since then and now use high-quality ingredients that are gentler on your teeth.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Epple M, Meyer F, Enax J. A Critical Review of Modern Concepts for Teeth Whitening. Dent J (Basel). 2019;7(3). doi:10.3390/dj7030079

  2. Kalliath C, Mukunda A, Pynadath M, Venugopal V, Prethweeraj J. Comparison between the effect of commercially available chemical teeth whitening paste and teeth whitening paste containing ingredients of herbal origin on human enamel. Ayu. 2018;39(2):113-117. doi:10.4103/ayu.AYU_82_18

Additional Reading
  • Academy of General Dentistry. Why Are My Teeth Sensitive?