Tips for dealing with sensitive teeth after whitening
Although teeth whitening is generally an effective and safe process, some people develop sensitivity afterwards. The sensitivity is temporary but is enough to cause discomfort for a day or two following the procedure. Sensitivity is usually mild or moderate. Severe sensitivity is quite rare. Below are some tips on how to deal with this sensitivity.
Symptoms of teeth whitening sensitivity
Teeth sensitivity manifests in the form of sharp and temporary pain when eating and drinking hot or cold food and beverages and when brushing your teeth. However, sensitivity resulting from teeth whitening may manifest and feel a little differently. If it occurs, consult your dentist for treatment and management.
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Causes of teeth sensitivity after whitening
Most people turn to teeth whitening treatments as a solution to discolouration or staining of their teeth. The discolouration or stains may result from drinking tea, coffee, wine or smoking cigarettes. Some medications and mouthwashes may also cause discolouration.
Both professional and over-the-counter whitening treatments work, but both may cause short-term sensitivity.
To understand why teeth whitening may cause sensitivity, you need to understand what teeth are made of:
- Enamel – the outer-most and the hardest layer of a tooth
- Dentin – it is the middle layer of a tooth that is nine times softer than the enamel. It contains minerals and microtubules leading to the pulp layer
- Pulp – it’s the innermost and softest layer of the tooth that contains living tissue (blood vessels and nerves)
The bleaching agents in the whitening products work by removing the yellowed or stained top enamel layer to expose the whiter enamel layer underneath. When a significant bit of the top layer is worn out, the dentin or pulp layer may be exposed, causing temporary sensitivity.
Sometimes the pain experienced can be because of gum irritation and not worn-out enamel layers. Home teeth whitening kits like gel trays often irritate the gums when they don’t fit properly, or the treatment instructions aren’t followed correctly.
If you develop moderate to severe sensitivity during home whitening procedures, you should discontinue the treatment and get in touch with a dental professional immediately. If you experience sensitivity during an in-office whitening procedure, let your dentist know so you can decide whether to progress with treatment or stop, depending on the level of sensitivity experienced.
Note that if the home treatment has a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide, you should use it for a shorter time. Although professional teeth whitening treatments at dentist offices have a high concentration of bleaching agents, they also have extra ingredients like potassium nitrate and fluoride that combat sensitivity.
How to treat teeth sensitivity before and after whitening
Dentists recommend several things to reduce teeth sensitivity before and after a whitening process.
Preventing sensitivity before treatment
Applying a desensitising gel
You should apply a desensitising gel containing 2% sodium fluoride and potassium nitrate before using whitening products to help reduce sensitivity. Leave the gel on your teeth for the specified time before rinsing it with water. Although it works, the effectiveness of these methods is still being researched.
Brushing with desensitising toothpaste
Use desensitising toothpaste a few days before your treatment. This toothpaste will block pain signals from the enamel to the nerves in the pulp layer. After brushing, leave the toothpaste on the enamel for a couple of minutes before rinsing it with water.
If you have previously whitened your teeth and experienced severe sensitivity, your dentist may recommend taking over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen before teeth whitening procedures to help to reduce sensitivity and discomfort. This is case-specific and is not routinely recommended to all patients. However, you can take the drugs even after treatment to help with any lingering sensitivity.
Preventing sensitivity after treatment
Using desensitising toothpaste
Continue brushing your teeth with desensitising toothpaste after the treatment. To prevent sensitivity, you can also apply a desensitising gel 48 hours after the whitening treatment. If you wear a night guard or retainers, you can even apply the gel inside them for prolonged contact with the teeth.
Using fluoride products
Using mouthwashes and toothpaste with fluoride can aid in remineralising the teeth and blocking pain signals to the nerves in the pulp layer.
Avoid using hard-bristled toothbrushes. Use soft-bristled toothbrushes and rinse with some lukewarm water to reduce sensitivity.
Drinking through a straw
Using a drinking straw after whitening your teeth helps to prevent liquids from making contact with your sensitive teeth, which helps to reduce discomfort.
Avoiding very hot and cold foods and drinks
Teeth are usually most sensitive on the first and second day after treatment. Ensure you avoid taking beverages and foods that are too cold or too hot during this time. Try to consume foods that are at room temperature.
What can I use to relieve pain after a teeth whitening procedure?
Hypersensitive patients or in rare cases where pain persists for over 48 hours after the procedure, should get pain relief medication. Although this pain is often handled case-by-case, paracetamol is most commonly prescribed. Ibuprofen, a pain killer and an anti-inflammatory, can also be used if needed.
Should I stop teeth whitening if my teeth are sensitive?
If you experience severe sensitivity after starting your treatment, you should stop immediately and contact a professional dentist. Mild sensitivity commonly occurs and is not a cause for alarm.
Does teeth whitening cause long-term sensitivity?
Sensitivity caused by teeth whitening can be uncomfortable and worrying, but it is temporary, and it doesn’t cause long-term sensitivity. It only causes long-term sensitivity can occur if whitening products are applied to damaged enamel, which is why you should still consult a dentist before buying over-the-counter whitening products. Damage to the enamel exposes the dentin and pulp layer causing pain and long-term sensitivity. The dentist will guide you on whether you are a suitable candidate for whitening and will also show you how to use the kit properly. Moreover, custom-made whitening trays fit your mouth much better and provide better final results than standard trays found in some over-the-counter kits.
Although tooth-whitening products are safe to use at home, it’s possible to develop teeth sensitivity. Knowing and understanding how to reduce teeth sensitivity symptoms and when to contact a dentist for help is important to prevent problems, for peace of mind and for the best final result. Remember, teeth whitening products have instructions you should adhere to for best results.
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