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How to Prevent and Treat Tooth Sensitivity After Teeth Whitening Treatments

teeth against whitening shade guide

Tooth sensitivity is a common complaint after teeth whitening treatments. While these treatments can help brighten your smile, they can also cause temporary discomfort. If you are considering a teeth whitening treatment or have recently undergone one and are experiencing sensitivity, it’s important to know how to prevent and treat it. In this article, we will explore the various causes of tooth sensitivity after teeth whitening treatments and provide practical tips for managing it effectively.

Tooth Sensitivity and Teeth Whitening

To understand why tooth sensitivity can happen after whitening treatments, we first need to understand how whitening treatments work. Teeth whitening treatments work by using a bleaching agent, typically hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, to remove stains and discoloration from the surface of the teeth. The bleaching agent breaks down the chemical bonds that cause the stains, allowing the teeth to appear whiter and brighter.

There are different types of teeth whitening treatments available, such as in-office treatments performed by a dentist or at-home treatments using a kit prescribed by a dentist. In-office treatments involve applying a high concentration of the bleaching agent to the teeth and activating it with a special light or heat. At-home treatments usually involve applying a lower concentration of the bleaching agent to custom-fitted trays that are worn for a specified amount of time each day.

There is a risk of tooth sensitivity following teeth whitening treatments because the bleaching agent used to whiten the teeth can penetrate the enamel and reach the dentin layer underneath. The dentin layer contains microscopic tubules that lead to the nerves in the tooth. When the tubules are exposed, they can cause a pain response when stimulated by hot, cold, sweet, or acidic substances, leading to tooth sensitivity. Additionally, teeth whitening treatments can cause dehydration of the teeth, which can result in thinner enamel and increased susceptibility to wear and tear, ultimately contributing to sensitivity. While tooth sensitivity after teeth whitening treatments is usually a temporary condition and resolves within a few days or weeks, persistent or severe sensitivity requires professional evaluation and appropriate treatment.

How to Minimize Your Risk

mechanism of desensitizing toothpaste

Preparing for a teeth whitening appointment can help reduce the risk of tooth sensitivity. Before the appointment, consult with your dentist to discuss any concerns you have about tooth sensitivity. They can evaluate your oral health and recommend the best whitening treatment for you. Your dentist may also recommend using desensitizing products, like toothpaste or gel, and avoiding acidic foods and drinks for at least 48 hours before and after the treatment in order to reduce the risk of tooth sensitivity. 

In some cases, they may also recommend restorative treatments before having your teeth whitened in order to prevent tooth sensitivity following the procedure. Restorative treatments may be required before teeth whitening treatments in certain cases where there are underlying dental issues that need to be addressed before the whitening procedure can be performed safely and effectively.

For example, if a person has untreated cavities, gum disease, or enamel erosion, these issues need to be addressed before the teeth whitening treatment can proceed. Teeth with cavities or decay may become more sensitive or even painful during the whitening process, and the whitening agents may penetrate the decayed areas and cause further damage. Similarly, if a person has gum disease, it can cause inflammation and irritation during the whitening process, which can lead to discomfort and uneven whitening results.

In addition, if a person has significant enamel erosion, it can make the teeth more susceptible to sensitivity during and after the whitening treatment. In such cases, the dentist may recommend restorative treatments, such as dental bonding or veneers, to protect and strengthen the teeth before proceeding with the whitening procedure.

It’s important to have a comprehensive dental exam and consultation with your dentist before undergoing any teeth whitening treatment to ensure that any underlying dental issues are addressed first. By doing so, you can help ensure a safe and effective whitening treatment with minimal risk of sensitivity or other complications.

Treating Tooth Sensitivity Post-Treatment

Teeth whitening treatments are a popular way to improve the appearance of your smile. However, one of the most common side effects of these treatments is tooth sensitivity. If you’re experiencing sensitivity after a whitening treatment, there are several ways to manage and treat it.

One effective way to reduce tooth sensitivity is to use desensitizing toothpaste. These toothpastes work by blocking the tiny tubules in the dentin that transmit pain signals to the nerves. Your dentist may recommend a specific brand of desensitizing toothpaste or gel, or you can purchase one over-the-counter.

Another way to reduce sensitivity is to apply fluoride gel. Fluoride can help strengthen and protect the enamel of your teeth, reducing the risk of sensitivity. Your dentist may apply a fluoride gel or varnish after the whitening treatment to help minimize sensitivity. It’s also important to avoid hot and cold foods, as eating or drinking these types of foods can exacerbate tooth sensitivity. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush and being gentle when brushing can also help prevent further irritation.

If your sensitivity is severe, it may be necessary to take a break from whitening treatments until your teeth have had a chance to recover. Your dentist can advise you on when it is safe to resume whitening treatments. If you experience tooth sensitivity after a whitening treatment, it’s important to talk to your dentist. They can recommend the best course of treatment to help manage your sensitivity and ensure that your teeth remain healthy and strong.

In Conclusion

If you’re considering a teeth whitening treatment, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks, including tooth sensitivity. By taking steps to prevent sensitivity before and after treatment, you can minimize the risk of discomfort and enjoy a brighter, more confident smile. If you do experience sensitivity, there are many options available for managing it effectively, from over-the-counter products to professional dental treatments. By working closely with your dentist and following a few simple tips, you can safely and comfortably achieve the smile of your dreams.

Dr. Roman Fedorciw has been in private practice in Cromwell since 1991. He is a member of the Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and the American Dental Association. He is also a member of the Connecticut Dental Association and Middlesex County Dental Association. Dr. Fedorciw has been acknowledged by his peers as one of the “Top Dentists” in Hartford County by Hartford Magazine and in the state of Connecticut by Connecticut Magazine.