Tooth Sensitivity & Whitening
July 28, 2019
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The most common side effect of tooth whitening is sensitive teeth or sensitivity around the teeth you are whitening.  


Soft Tissue Sensitivity:

Whitening concentrations higher than 15% can irritate your soft tissue. This is usually perceived as stinging or tingling gums or you may see small areas of blanching or tenderness. If this happens:

  1. check tray for overlap (If you have a dentist made tray they may need to adjust it for you)
  2. Make sure you are not overfilling your tray with material
  3. Inspect your mouth for or have your dental professional inspect your mouth for food, floss, or toothbrush-caused cuts or abrasions


Pulpal Sensitivity:

This type of sensitivity usually occurs due to dehydration of your tooth and is usually felt as a dull toothache or headache. If you feel this is what is causing your sensitivity, reduce whitening time to 20-60 minutes. 70% of whitening has occurred by the end of the first hour and your saliva can then rapidly rehydrate your teeth. You also may need to take a break from whitening for 1-2 days and then restart whitening using the shorter time.


Acute (severe or intense) Sensitivity:

Usually direct access to dentin is the cause of this type of sensitivity. Some ways dentin is exposed are recession, enamel fracture, chipped tooth, or leaking filling or crown margins. This is usually experienced as a jolt or shock of pain from a single tooth.


For some people, using a toothpaste made for sensitive teeth for 2-3 weeks prior to whitening and throughout the treatment period is enough to help the sensitivity.

Brushing with baking soda on a wet toothbrush for 30-60 seconds may help decrease sensitivity. Pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen is helpful to some people.


Some people cannot whiten due to severe sensitivity.


Professional whitening is better than store bought. Professional materials are different than what you can buy in a store plus you get the advice of your dentist for your mouth.  Be aware that if the product is not applied properly you can make your teeth look worse rather than better. Besides, if your teeth are truly discolored, most OTC products are not going to be strong enough to help.


Note: This advice is not intended to replace the clinical judgement of your healthcare professional.


Dr. Jennifer Robb is a general dentist who sees both children and adults at her dental office.

1612 Cooper Foster Park Rd.
Lorain, OH 44053