10 Strategies to Cope With Teeth Whitening Sensitivity

A gleaming white smile can boost your self confidence, and today's tooth-whitening products are easier than ever to use at home.

Years ago, most 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.

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

This article discusses what tooth sensitivity is, how whitening treatments can cause it, and what you can do to reduce the symptoms.

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What Causes Tooth Sensitivity?

Tooth sensitivity is experienced as a rush or wave of pain, usually in response to hot or cold foods and drinks. It isn't known exactly why tooth whitening causes sensitivity.

However, peroxide—one of the main ingredients in most tooth-whitening products—can weaken tooth enamel. This can expose the middle layer of the tooth, called the dentin.

Dentin is a sensitive part of the tooth. It surrounds the tooth's pulp (where the nerves are), and is made up of tiny tubes. When a tooth's nerves are irritated, it can cause pain.

If you already suffer from tooth sensitivity and are thinking about whitening your teeth, you may want to reconsider because it could make your sensitivity worse. However, there are ways to combat this issue and still allow yourself to whiten your teeth and achieve a beautiful smile.

Tips to Reduce Sensitivity

If you are whitening your teeth at home and develop sensitivity, the techniques below may help. These tips may also be helpful if you've had your teeth whitened at the dentist's office.

  1. Follow the instructions. It's important to follow all the instructions closely, whether they're your dentist's directions 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 treatments if sensitivity starts to develop, and try shorter application times. Sometimes just giving your teeth a short break between treatments can help alleviate symptoms.
  3. Take a pain reliever beforehand. Taking pain medication, such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), can help reduce or prevent symptoms if you take it before applying the whitening product.
  4. Use a product with less peroxide. While you may think that a higher level of peroxide might give you a better result, it's not worth it if you have pain. 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).
  5. Limit cold drinks and foods during treatment. Whitening can really make sensitivity issues worse. Limiting very cold or very hot food and drinks during treatment can minimize your symptoms.
  6. Don't overuse whitening products. It's important to follow instructions and not leave whitening products on your teeth longer than recommended. However, it's also important to avoid using them for more treatment sessions than you should. Doing this can make your teeth very sensitive or even damage them.
  7. Use fluoride rinses and/or sensitivity toothpaste. These products can help protect sensitive teeth and alleviate the symptoms. Fluoride treatments are also sometimes recommended either before, during, or after you whiten your teeth.
  8. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush. Softer bristles are gentler on your teeth and gums. This can help cut back on your symptoms.
  9. Get help. Always call your dentist if your sensitivity issues continue or get worse when using a whitening treatment. Sensitivity can be a symptom of a serious problem like receding gums or cavities.
  10. Ask your dentist about desensitizing products that can be applied at the office. Your dentist may have treatments that can reduce sensitivity. When used correctly, they have been known to be effective at relieving symptoms, regardless of the cause.

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

Summary

Even though tooth-whitening products are safe to use at home, it's still possible to develop sensitivity from using them. Knowing the steps you can take to reduce sensitivity symptoms and knowing when to contact your dentist can help you complete your treatment and put you on the path to a bright, white smile.

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3 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.
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  2. 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

  3. Davari A, Ataei E, Assarzadeh H. Dentin hypersensitivity: etiology, diagnosis and treatment; a literature reviewJ Dent (Shiraz). 2013;14(3):136-145. PMID:24724135

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