How to deal with teeth whitening sensitivity

Teeth whitening treatments, including at-home whitening strips or trays and laser whitening treatments, can cause high levels of teeth sensitivity or pain for some people. People with teeth whitening sensitivity may experience discomfort or pain during treatment, or in the period following. The type and level of discomfort experienced can be attributed to each person’s unique teeth or gums, as well as the type of teeth whitening treatment.

You might be wondering why sensitivity happens and what causes it? We’ll go through everything you need to know about teeth whitening sensitivities and the preventative and pain-relieving measures that can help reduce sensitivity and discomfort.

How does teeth whitening work?

Most teeth whitening products use the same active ingredients: hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. These products contain volatile oxygen molecules. When they come into contact with your teeth, these molecules react to the presence of organic stains and discolouration and break the molecular bonds that hold them onto your teeth. This removes the stains and restores the natural white appearance of your enamel.

What causes teeth whitening sensitivity?

The precise cause of teeth whitening sensitivity is not fully understood. However, the leading theory relates to the effects of peroxides on your enamel and dentine. The peroxide product bleaches away the stains and discolouration on the teeth but, as it’s doing this, it also causes slight demineralisation that can make your teeth enamel permeable and prone to sensitivity.

This exposes the microtubules (also known as the dentinal tubules) within your teeth. These tiny, microscopic channels lead from the surface of the tooth to the centre of the tooth, where they connect to the nerves.

It’s these dentinal tubules that allow you to feel different sensations on your teeth. When exposed, they become more sensitive and hyperactive, causing feelings of pain and sensitivity.

Often, we find that sensitivity goes away when you stop teeth whitening treatments, because your teeth remineralise and the dentinal tubules begin to seal up again, causing the whitening-induced sensitivity to stop.

Another reason for teeth sensitivity is that some teeth whitening trays may exert force on your teeth, causing them to hurt temporarily.

Symptoms of teeth sensitivity after whitening

For some people, sensitivity after teeth whitening may be mild to moderate, while others may experience no reaction at all. Teeth sensitivity is usually felt when breathing in cold air or eating hot or cold food and drinks. Acidic, sugary foods can also trigger teeth sensitivity.

Here are some of the most common symptoms of teeth sensitivity:

  • Sudden tooth pain that feels like it extends to the root
  • Sudden pain when the teeth are exposed to temperature changes
  • Teeth pain when eating food that’s sweet, sour or acidic
  • Pain when brushing your teeth.

Preventing teeth sensitivity before teeth whitening treatment

If you’re about to undergo professional teeth whitening treatment, like that offered by Hamilton Dental Centre, it’s advised to build up your teeth’s resistance to sensitivity before your appointment. You can do this by changing to a sensitive toothpaste and using a sensitive gel at least a week before treatment.

Although it may not entirely prevent teeth sensitivity following the treatment, it does help with reducing the effects of sensitivity.

Treating sensitive teeth after teeth whitening treatment

If you’re experiencing teeth sensitivity after a teeth whitening treatment, here are some things you could do to minimise and treat the symptoms:

  • Avoid hot and cold food and drinks. Your teeth are at their most sensitive during the first 1-2 days after treatment. Opt for food and drinks at room temperature to reduce the pain.
  • Avoid acidic, sour, or sweet foods and drinks. The acid in food and drinks, such as sugary sodas, chocolates and citrus, can irritate your teeth, increasing the pain caused by sensitivity.
  • Use a desensitising toothpaste and gel. Brushing with desensitising toothpaste and/or applying the gel for the first 48 hours after your whitening treatment can help reduce sensitivity and make the pain more manageable.
  • Brush gently. Opt for a soft-bristled toothbrush when brushing your teeth, and rinse your mouth using lukewarm water.
  • Use fluoride products. Toothpaste and mouthwashes that contain fluoride can help remineralise your teeth and block pain signals to your oral nerves.
  • Use a straw. Drinking through a straw after your teeth whitening treatment can help prevent the liquid from making contact with your teeth. This helps minimise the discomfort caused by sensitivity.

Can sensitive teeth be whitened?

If you already have sensitive teeth, you might be wondering if you can still get your teeth whitened. The simple answer is yes, but you should take steps to control and reduce whitening-induced sensitivity.

Have a chat with your dentist about your teeth sensitivity and your plans to get your teeth whitened. They can explain how teeth whitening can affect your teeth, what you need to do to reduce it to keep you more comfortable, and advise which options and products are right for you.

How Hamilton Dental Centre can help with teeth whitening and sensitivity

If you’d like to learn more about teeth whitening and your options, Hamilton Dental Centre can help. During the initial consultation, one of our dentists will examine your teeth to make sure they are suitable for treatment. If you already have sensitive teeth, they can talk you through your options. Book an appointment online today or call 0800 004 118.

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